UNDISCLOSED LOCATION --
When a 130,000 pound aircraft touches down, it makes an impact. And no matter how good your surface is, over time, everything wears down. So when the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing starts to see cracks in the flight line, they call the 332d Expeditionary Civil Engineer heavy repair flight.
They prefer to go by “Dirt Boyz”, but no matter what you call them, when you call them, they show up.
The flight line itself is not one solid piece. Much like a sidewalk, it’s made of multiple squares, with small gaps in between. The gaps are filled with sealant. Over time that sealant dries up, forming small rock-like pieces, which can then break off.
“When you start to get cracks in the crevices, we’ll go over it with this liquid sealant,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Thompson, 332d ECES heavy repair shop non-commissioned officer in charge. “It’s a hot tar that covers up and gives it a new coat that can last several more years.”
Even the smallest of those pieces, if it gets sucked into a jet engine, can do a lot of damage.
That’s just in between the squares. When pieces from the surface of the flight line start to come loose, that’s when the spalls repair team comes in.
“Spalls are the little chunks that come up when a crack gets too big,” said Tech. Sgt. Kellen Wilson, 332d ECES heavy repair shop craftsman. “Sometimes the crack even circles around to meet itself. That’s really when the pieces start to come loose.”
The spalls repair team goes around the crack with a concrete saw, jackhammers the area completely out and fills that hole by pouring new concrete.
It seems simple enough, but the importance can’t be understated.
“If you land a jet on a spot that gives way, you can blow a tire, you can blow two tires,” Wilson continues. “If that happens, you’ve completely lost the aircraft and the pilot’s life is in danger too.”
That equates to fewer missions and reduced presence in the area. When you’re trying to support and empower partner nations and deter violent extremist organizations, there’s always strength in numbers.
The spalls repair team takes a proactive posture, seeking out cracks before they become a major issue and ensuring the problem never gets far enough to do real damage.