Forging the future, maintainers receive new equipment

By Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The B-1 is a four-engine, supersonic bomber that has been providing combat airpower – anytime and anywhere for more than 30 years.

This Black Dragon has been at Ellsworth since July 15, 1988, and is currently playing a major role in the war on terror.

These aging aircraft are used frequently, putting them under constant wear and tear. The bombers consistently need new parts to continue their mission, parts that haven’t been manufactured in decades. This is where the 28th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight comes into play.

This shop, specializing in metal work, manufactures parts for the B-1 and the base. They have a heavy workload to keep up with, but with their new equipment, they can streamline the process.

“The new Computer Numeric Controlled Milling equipment we just received are the VF5 Super Speed, and the UMC 750 Super Speed, with one being a three axis drilling machine and the other a fifth axis,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Clark, metals technology section chief assigned to the 28th Maintenance Squadron. “Some of our older machines were unable to hold tolerances like these new ones which makes the job quite a bit faster; enabling us to cut down on the time the aircraft is down.”

Parts forged by the fabrication shop include a variety of parts including the main landing gear support, bell cranks, filler, brackets and many others.

“The new equipment allows us to process and create items we need through the software application built within the machine,” said Senior Airman Drake Anderson, an aircraft metals technology journeyman assigned to the 28th MXS. “If we manually mill [the parts] out it could take us many, many more hours, keeping the B-1 grounded for that much longer.”

The new machines are leaps and bounds above what they had before, increasing their capabilities and productivity.

“We don’t have to worry about parts being off as much, they should be much sturdier, the tolerances will be there and they will be manufactured a lot faster than before,” Clark said. “The only thing we have to do now is get people trained and more familiar with using them.”

Though the Fabrication Flights’ main focus is on the aircraft, they are capable of creating anything asked of them to make the mission a success.

“We can do almost anything, as long as it falls under the mission and we have the materials,” Clark said. “Then it’s pretty much up to the creativity of someone in here to be able to program and then use the equipment we have to manufacture the requested parts.”

With the right tools, parts and vision, maintainers of the Fabrication Flight can keep the B-1 high in the sky.

“The Fabrication Flight is essential for Ellsworth simply because of the B-1 mission,” Clark explained. “If the parts aren’t there, the plane isn’t going anywhere. With us being here we are able to fabricate almost anything for our aircraft, allowing them to do the mission that is required of them.”

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Ellsworth Air Force Base website.