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379 AEW innovates, conducts AUAB’s first KC-135 fin removal in nine years

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Devin Boyer
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

For the first time in nine years at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, a team of Airmen assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing conducted a fin fold on a KC-135 Stratotanker, removing the vertical stabilizer to repair its rudder.

The vertical stabilizer, or tail fin, is the static part of the vertical tail of an aircraft that houses the rudder, which prevents side-to-side motion of the aircraft nose. The removal process of this aircraft part is a unique and technical maintenance action that normally requires a team with a high degree of proficiency and specialized support equipment. This task is normally reserved for depot-level maintenance, a facility that is outfitted for major aircraft repairs.

“Since 2006, this procedure has only been performed at the field level five other times,” said Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Quinn, 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent. “There was one other instance of it happening here at AUAB that we know of, back in 2014. The assembled team had collectively conducted one fin removal on the KC-135, complemented by experience with fin removals on various other aircraft.”

Although the Aero Repair and Reclamation work center was primarily responsible for the completion of this task, members from the Hydraulic and Electrical, and Environmental work centers played a pivotal role in setting conditions for them to execute the fin removal. Additionally, the Fabrication section provided innovative techniques and expertise to repair the rudder attachment fittings by modifying and creating tools to aid in the installation of critical parts.

However, before the team could effectively repair the rudder, they removed the entire vertical stabilizer from the aircraft. This process required some creativity from various units at AUAB.

“The 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron contributed by providing both the crane essential for lifting the fin and a skilled crane operator, along with other vital materials,” Quinn said. “This entire process saw collaboration from multiple entities within the 379th AEW, underscoring the wide array of talents our Airmen contribute to the mission.”

Weighing in at approximately 2,400 lbs, the fin required a safe and secure platform to rest on while providing Airmen access to the rudder to conduct the maintenance. This requirement called for ingenuity and innovation from team AUAB.

“The 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron repurposed mattresses from a dormitory undergoing renovation to act as cushioning for the vertical stabilizer while it was removed and staged on dunnage, preventing damage to a primary flight control surface on the KC-135,” Quinn said. “While EFSS is typically recognized for its support for the morale and welfare of personnel in aircraft maintenance, it's extremely rare for them to offer hands-on support to aircraft maintenance operations.”

Through collaboration and determination, the collective efforts between four squadrons resulted in a successful maintenance operation to continue the 379th AEW’s mission.

“Performing this task for the first time in a deployed environment offered a unique and exciting experience,” said Tech. Sgt. Zachary Dybas, 379th EMXS crew chief. “It gave us the opportunity to showcase the aptitude and capabilities of the 379th EMXS and strengthened our ability to overcome challenging maintenance operations rarely performed overseas. While completing this uncommon procedure, the team effectively collaborated with multiple squadrons to achieve the common goal of generating combat air power.”