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Shake a tailfeather: Fab flight takes a creative approach

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- The math couldn't be simpler: One bird times 300 miles per hour equals $60,000 in repairs -- unless you have Hickam Fabrication Flight on the case. 

"We are limited only by our imagination and our authorization by what we can do 99 percent of the time," said Senior Master Sgt. Roth Beebe, 15th Maintenance Squadron, Fabrications Flight Flight Chief. 

This proved to be true when a Hickam C-17 struck a bird late last month. The bird had punctured the 'skin' of the plane and damaged a five-inch section of the horizontal stabilizer on the tail section. According to Sergeant Beebe, the damage was beyond the technical data repair capabilities. 

Although the technical data called for a new tail, members of the Structures shop used their outside-the-box thinking to come up with a solution to save the Air Force time and money. 

"In man-hours and materials, the repair cost $3,000," said Sergeant Beebe. "Had we ordered the part, it would have been a little over $60,000." 

Not only did they save the Air Force money, but the flight fixed the plane in three days, as opposed to the seven it would have taken to order and receive the new part. 

To do this, the Non Destructive Inspection team assessed the damage. Members of this team act as surgeons, carefully examining and using sonogram technology to map the damage to the composite substance that makes up a C-17. 

After they mapped the damage, the Structures shop wrote up a repair solution, then sent the assessment to the engineers at Boeing to see if repairs could be made. The engineers gave them the go-ahead and the team went to work repairing the plane.
For the structures maintenance team, this thinking without limits is their favorite part of the job. 

"I like the challenges posed when a problem is outside the realm of a technical order," said Staff Sgt. Racca, 15 MXS. "I get to rely on my past experiences to determine a solution." 

Though the flight is fairly young at Hickam, they have lots of experience on the team and have had their hand in many repairs from hydraulic lines to gear covers.
"For the planes here just over a year, we have displayed our talents quite often," said Sergeant Beebe. "Lots of our work is behind the scenes and people don't even realize the things we affect."