RAF MILDENHALL, England –
The Airmen of the 100th Maintenance Squadron’s aircraft structural maintenance shop preserve and extend the life of components for all Team Mildenhall airframes.
The aircraft structural maintenance shop, sometimes called sheet metal, also includes the corrosion control section, and performs multiple tasks that enable RAF Mildenhall aircraft to continue to execute the mission. Their ability to keep parts and aircraft serviceable relies on a variety of tasks such as painting, sanding, hammering, repairing and maintaining aircraft parts.
“The sheet metal shop is responsible for the structural integrity of all of RAF Mildenhall’s assigned aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Eric Krause, 100th MXS noncommissioned officer in-charge of aircraft structural maintenance. “We take solid flat sheets of metal and we bend them into whatever shapes are required to rebuild the aircraft. The metal is held together by different types of rivets and adhesives which we install onto the aircraft.”
The Airmen who work in structural maintenance could be described as “aircraft surgeons” who are sought out when the aircraft needs repair and to keep it performing smoothly.
“When any metal, fiberglass, or advanced composite breaks off the main structure of the aircraft or if it doesn’t look how it is supposed to, you come to us,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Kristopik, 100th MXS NCO in-charge of corrosion control. “We take what’s broken or damaged and either replace it with a brand new part or repair it so it’s better than new.”
Although corrosion control and sheet metal are one and the same, the sections are sometimes thought of as two different shops due to the size of the workload.
“Our job is to make sure that planes never rust by covering them in different types of epoxies and polyurethane organic coatings, such as paint, which prevent oxygen from touching the surface,” Kristopik explained. “Without us maintaining the seal of protection, our counterparts in the sheet metal section would be overloaded with having to replace parts; if we don’t do our job to the fullest they would have three to four times the amount of work.”
The corrosion section significantly extends the life of aircraft components.
“If you left a piece of metal bare, with no treatments of any kind on the aircraft, it would rust in roughly six months and the strength of the metal would be reduced,” Kristopik said. “We have to stay on top of our work, every thousandth of an inch counts.”
Sheet metal Airmen are can also be called upon to temporarily take their skills downrange.
“We also perform maintenance recovery missions when our aircraft are off station,” Krause said. “We have sent teams to Africa, the European theater and Central Command to recover aircraft and bring them back. By deploying our Airmen to fix these aircraft and get them back to this location, we help increase readiness.”
The job of aircraft structural maintenance is to keep the aircraft flying for as long as necessary. They make this happen by performing a variety of tasks, all of them necessary to the mission.
“Because of our actions, and the actions of the structural maintainers everywhere who work on the KC-135 Stratotanker; they have been able to stay in the air for 60 years,” Krause explained. “Through our readiness and maintaining these aircraft at this location we are able to touch a vast scope of operations in the Air Force.”
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Royal Air Force Mildenhall website.