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Restoring jets through fabrication and grit

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alexis Kula
  • 87th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

In the fast-paced world of aviation maintenance, where each repair poses a unique puzzle, adaptability and teamwork are essential. When a C-17 Globemaster III encountered unexpected damage and was stranded at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, it was more than a setback—it was a test of skill and determination for a select group of technicians. With precision as their tool and collaboration as their strength, this specialized team from the 305th Maintenance Squadron and a Boeing engineer set out to conquer the challenge before them.

Their journey began on July 2, 2023, when they arrived in Norfolk to confront the severe damage to the aircraft's stabilizer struts and wheel pods. The damage exceeded typical repair scenarios, presenting a puzzle that defied easy solutions. However, the small mission response team executed temporary fixes, rendering the aircraft able to safely return home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. A thorough inspection following the jet’s return revealed deeper structural issues, prompting the 305th MXS to spring into action.

“When we dug deeper into the damage, it was daunting,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bailey Eichelberger, 305th MXS sheet metal technician. “This type of maintenance is not normal at our level, but we knew with the right team we could accomplish something great.”

Over the course of five months, maintenance personnel worked tirelessly to source materials, develop components locally, and conduct meticulous research to guide the repair process, demonstrating resilience and ingenuity. The collaboration of several departments postured the team to overcome the challenges of acquiring parts and lack of detailed instruction for the extensive repairs.

The team and the Boeing field engineer had not encountered this type of damage before, and the risk of losing this jet to potential disposition was at an all-time high. With this in mind, and with the backdrop of ongoing events in the Middle East, the team understood the critical importance of keeping this jet operational.

Tech. Sgt. Jordan Barfield, 305th MXS aircraft metals technician reflected, "Initially, we weren’t sure if our solutions would be successful because we aren’t equipped for this level of maintenance. We had to reverse engineer many components, but every single person on this project was relentlessly determined to find a way. We HAD to figure this out."

On Nov. 8th, 2023, following nonstop effort and setbacks, the repair mission reached its conclusion. The team worked vigorously to complete the repair, replacing 12 large structural components, and utilizing more than 1200 pieces of hardware. Maintenance logs recorded more than 101 maintenance actions and 1100 man-hours provided from more than 35 personnel spanning various specialties.

Despite the challenges and uncertainties, the C-17 emerged from the seemingly impossible repair, reaffirming Air Mobility Command's unwavering commitment to upholding a strategic advantage. This milestone not only highlighted the steadfast dedication and expertise of the diverse team, it also resulted in significant cost savings by avoiding deposition level repair, estimated at $1.7 million.

“We all held our breath as the final part went on and we tested the controls. We realized we did it,” Barfield reflected. “This project felt impossible for months, but we never gave up. Our leadership trusted and supported us every step of the way.”

Rapid Global Mobility lies at the core of AMC's mission—to project, connect, maneuver, and sustain the Joint Force with unparalleled efficiency and effectiveness. By swiftly and efficiently restoring the damaged C-17, the 305th MXS demonstrated AMC's readiness to overcome challenges and ensure America's global reach remains unmatched.

"Maintenance isn’t easy. Our Airmen solve hard problems every day to keep these jets flying and ready to join the fight,” said Capt. Wesley Crawford, 305th MXS director of operations. “I’m extremely proud of the determination and grit on display from this team and their ability to think outside the box to create solutions.”