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Hydraulics Airmen correct 60-year-old KC-135 maintenance flaw

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sean Campbell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.-- Team Fairchild Airmen may have saved all 396 KC-135 Stratotankers in the Air Force.  

This spring, Airmen from the 92nd Maintenance Squadron hydraulics shop were called to fix a KC-135 with an improperly installed boom ruddervator torque tube, which secures the ruddervators to the tanker’s refueling boom. The boom operator uses the ruddervators to guide the boom to another jet during refueling operations. If the bell crank is installed improperly, like it was in this case, the boom would be too difficult to control, making aerial refueling nearly impossible and risking the lives of the aircrews and both airframes.

“It’s rare nowadays to have a [maintenance change] approved on an aircraft that has been around for over 60 years; most things have already been fixed at this point,” said Tech. Sgt. Bradley Alberts, 141st Maintenance Group quality assurance inspector.

Upon further inspection of the bell crank and coinciding technical orders, the Airmen discovered inaccurate verbiage that likely led to the incorrect bell crank installation within the torque tube.

“The ruddervator torque tube was rotating within the bell crank, creating a lot of movement that shouldn’t have been there,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Landin, 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hydraulics system craftsman. “A lot of people have had issues with this task and the clarity of it. The T.O. doesn’t specify how the torque tube bell crank is supposed to be attached.”

The Airmen submitted a correction form to amend the KC-135 technical orders Airmen reference when repairing aircraft. Their request for change was approved and the Air Force-wide correction will be applied to all future technical order versions.

Changes have been submitted to the KC-135 Stratotanker’s T.O. since the introduction of the aircraft in 1956 to correct errors, all in effort to make it safer for Airmen to maintain and fly the Stratotanker.

“It is important for all Air Force members in every career field to know that rules aren’t always set in stone. Changes can and should be made for the better,” Alberts said. “Any one of us at any point may see a better, smarter way to do something that could result in money or man hours saved, and we need that in today’s Air Force.”