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Airmen use latest technology to help maintain C-17 fleet

62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Published: 12:37PM August 15th, 2013
130805-F-GM792-002

Staff Sgt. Jason Truskowski

Staff Sgt. Christopher Hirsch removes wheel bolts and studs from a C-17.

Few Air Force work centers can claim to use the latest, cutting-edge technology that nobody else in the military had ever seen or put their hands on.

For the Airmen of the 62nd Maintenance Squadron, June 2013 will be remembered as the month when the new prototype wheel and tire machine arrived. The machine, constructed by HHI, Inc., is the only one being used throughout the military.

“When we talked with the company about overall improvement ideas in our facility and with our equipment, we weren’t thinking specifically about McChord, we were thinking about improvements that any wheel and tire facility across the military could benefit from,” said Bryan Owen, 62nd Maintenance Squadron aircraft mechanical parts repairer. “With the downsizing of the military we have to work smarter and find ways to streamline processes, updating equipment is one way to do that.”

Since the wheel and tire machine arrived in June, the capability of the four-man maintenance shop to safely and efficiently rework wheel and tire assemblies has increased insurmountably. Technicians maintain assemblies on 48 of JBLM McChord Field’s permanently assigned C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, equating to roughly 125 assemblies each month with an average annual inspection rate of 1,300 units.

“The machine is really turning out to be a good investment for (JBLM) and the Air Force,” said Owen. “We are easily able to turn out 12 wheels in a four-hour period.”

Every 120 days, C-17 tires undergo a routine inspection, when all 14 tires are removed from the aircraft and brought to the wheel and tire shop for maintenance.

The machine is capable of holding six, 450-pound wheel assemblies at a time, which are rolled by hand onto a ramp and placed onto a conveyer belt. The machine’s platform has the capability to raise 24 inches, making the tires sit at an optimal waist-height work level.

In the past, work was done on the shop floor with technicians bent at the waist for the entire process with wheel chocks being used to stabilize the tires.

“The new machine alleviates the need to work bent at the waist for almost the entire break-down of the wheel,” said 1st Lt. Naomi Ballard, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Flight commander. “It’s also a safer way to work because the stand holds the tires upright, which eliminates the possibility that the tires will fall over while my guys are working on it.”

During the inspection, the tires are sent down the machines assembly line and completely broken down, cleaned and then inspected before reassembly.

Routine maintenance of each assembly includes: tire deflation and removal, extraction of bearings and seals, and cleaning of all components. After cleaning, the nondestructive inspection facility examines each item for cracks and wear.

The final steps in the process are to grease, reassemble and install the bearings and seals, and install the tire. After inflation, a 12-hour pressure check is conducted to ensure no leaks are evident. The tires are then rolled off the line and ready for use.

“Really, the only maintenance we can’t perform here in our shop is major damage repair to the wheel housings, re-treading the tires and depot-level maintenance,” Ballard said. “Every two years the wheels get boxed up and sent back to depot to be completely overhauled.”

This new wheel and tire machine allows the technicians to work in a safe and more work-conducive environment. Overall, it proves that wheel and tire technicians truly are responsible for keeping the ‘rubber on the road’ for McChord Field’s C-17 fleet.