KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Maintaining aircraft for 10 WC-130J Super Hercules is no easy task, especially when that job is to repair an aircraft after a destructive fire.
On Nov. 1, 2020, a 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron crew was preparing to take off to fly Hurricane Eta when the aircraft’s left wing caught fire. None of the crew were harmed, but the fire, which started in the wing, above the aircrafts auxiliary power unit, left a basketball-sized hole in the wing.
Soon after, Tech. Sgt. Brandon Oliver and Tech. Sgt. Dani Enderby, 913th Maintenance Squadron electrical and environmental technicians at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, got a call from the 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here asking for their assistance.
“We were in need of manning; we have Air Reserve Technician vacancies, and we were supporting a deployment,” said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Stafford, 403rd AMXS specialist flight chief. “In addition to that, we are training new Airmen who have lower experience levels. This repair was difficult, a major overhaul, so it had to be an experienced technician to handle the task.”
When Oliver and Enderby got here Jan. 11 they began troubleshooting.
“The APU wiring caught fire in the upper wing root and then melted through the aluminum support tubing, destroyed the electrical system; everything needed to be replaced,” said Oliver, a traditional reservist with 8 years of experience at Little Rock. He is an E&E technician for a civilian company in Arkansas and said that was one of reasons his leadership and the 403rd AMXS asked for his help.
E&E technicians maintain and repair the wiring and electrical components on an aircraft ranging from everything to cabin pressurization to wiring for engine control.
“We touch everything on the aircraft electronically controlled; all moving parts that have electricity going to them; and anything that supplies power like generators and inverters, and such,” he said. “We maintain and repair any issues with the environmental side as well such as the liquid oxygen which is life support equipment.”
By having the 913th maintainers here, it allowed the 403rd AMXS to have a dedicated electrician team to work on the aircraft, said Col. Steven Fortson, 403rd Maintenance Group commander.
“They had to rewire a whole leading edge down to an APU into the landing gear,” said the group commander. “That’s a huge task and manpower power bill, and because they were down here we didn’t have to take that extra manpower out of hide. If we didn’t have them here we’d still probably be working on it.”
It took the crew of E&E technicians, along with 403rd AMXS dedicated crew chiefs and personnel from the 403rd Fabrications Flight, about 820 man hours to make all the repairs to the wing.
The plane flew its first flight July 13.
“We fixed all the damage and all the operational checks have passed,” said Oliver. “One final check and flight by the operations group and the aircraft will be fully mission capable again.”
The 403rd’s relationship with the 913th isn’t anything new. The 913th MXS is a unit in the 913th Airlift Group, a classic associate unit to the active duty’s 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock. The two units, one active the other Reserve, use the Total Force concept of integration where the 19th AW is the host and has primary responsibility for their C-130J aircraft the units fly and maintain.
For newer maintenance members who are undergoing upgrade training, it can be a challenge to get signed off on certain tasks, said Oliver, so maintenance members from the 913th AMXS have been coming to Keesler for the past few years to obtain additional proficiency training.
Oliver’s first trip to Keesler was in 2017, and groups of maintainers from the 913th assisted the 403rd MXG periodically to include helping out with the 2020 hurricane season, the 2021 atmospheric river missions, and this hurricane season.
“It’s a change of pace of us, especially not having our own aircraft,” said Oliver. “We work hand-in-hand with active duty at Little Rock on drill weekends, but coming here for annual tour is good for our traditional reservists to get additional experience and training. It’s a great sense of fulfillment and completion to be able to come here and assist the unit with fixing this aircraft, and that makes it all worth it.”
The relationship the 403rd Wing has with the 913th Airlift Group is very beneficial, said Fortson.
“They get the training they need and we get additional manning and a broader pool of maintenance Air Force Specialties to pull from; it’s win-win for everybody,” he said.