RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Maintenance recovery teams from the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing here can be sent out the door at any given moment to fix broken aircraft throughout Europe.
Two Airmen, Staff Sgt. Kyle Brooks and Senior Airman Kody Hatch, both 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems technicians, experienced this first hand when they hit the road to repair a number four main fuel tank leak on a C-17 Globemaster III in Cologne, Germany, Feb. 10. The crew of the C-17, flying out of Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, landed in Cologne Bonn Airport to pick up 125 German and Armenian soldiers to transport downrange. When they landed, routine checks of the plane led to the discovery of a fuel leak.
“If we weren’t able to come, they wouldn’t have been able to fly,” Brooks said. “With some leaks they can, but the way and how bad it was leaking it could really have burned the aircraft down. "MRTs are crucial to the mission,” Brooks said. “If we didn’t supply this service, it could have taken an extra couple of days for Dover to send out a team. If they didn’t send one in time, the mission would have been cancelled. It’s absolutely crucial because it saves so much time and money in the long run.”
After donning her harness, Brooks and Hatch climbed on top of the aircraft and carefully made their way to the leak exit point on the wing. After examining it, they decided to apply pig putty as a temporary solution that would allow the crew to continue their mission.
Before Brooks and Hatch could apply the putty, they used methyl ethyl ketone, a solution similar to rubbing alcohol, to clean the exit point and wing of fuel. Once completed, they applied putty and let it harden for about an hour.
After the sun had disappeared behind the horizon, Hatch climbed back out to the wing and reassessed the leak. There was a small rim of fuel around the putty. Hatch and Brooks conferred with the C-17’s flying crew chiefs and decided to do a 12-hour leak check.
“We wouldn’t normally do a 12-hour leak check on a temporary fix, but since it was leaking in the exhaust it was a huge deal,” Brooks said. “When we put the seal on, it was pushing the residual fuel that was inside the crease of the cover, but we weren’t sure if that was the case or if it was still leaking. We put it on the 12-hour leak check for the safety of the crew onboard.”
It had snowed overnight which made assessing the putty more of a challenge, but Brooks was able to determine the temporary fix was holding strong.
“This was absolutely successful,” he said. “When we left Ramstein, we didn’t really know what was wrong with it, and within 24 hours it’s fixed and flying people downrange.”
As an extra precaution, the Airmen stayed until the C-17 departed that evening, and assisted the crew in loading six pallets of cargo onto the aircraft.
The engines rumbled to life, and the C-17 taxied to the runway. As the rain poured down, it took off into the sky and disappeared into the night.
“It’s really satisfying watching the jet take off,” Hatch said. “You watch it and know you did that; you’re the reason it’s taking off. Now there are over a hundred German and Armenian soldiers able to do their mission.”
No two MRTs are the same, but their conclusions provide the same sense of purpose and accomplishment.
“I’ve been a part of four MRTs to recover jets,” Brooks said. “During the process, you get to meet the people who are going to continue that mission, see the cargo load up, and the jet fly. It makes it all worth it. I love my job; it’s the best feeling you can have.”
Breaks and malfunctions are a looming problem for pilots and crew chiefs as they travel the world to complete the mission. Those who fly in Europe can be rest assured the 721 AMXS will be there to make it right.