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Combat metals: 'The Modern Day Blacksmiths'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy L. Mosier
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

While there are a lot of precautionary measures in place to prevent bird strikes and other aircraft incidents, they are not one-hundred percent preventable.


When these incidents occur, there’s a small group of Airmen who are called upon to do patchwork to get the aircraft back to base, and to fix the damage as quickly as possible to mitigate ground time for the aircraft.


These Airmen and what they do is not completely well known. But, their impact on the flying mission is felt across the maintenance world.


They are the combat metals flight, “The modern day blacksmiths.”


Most maintenance people change parts but we have to make our own parts, from raw materials and then install them,” explained Master Sgt. Andrew Liederbach, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron combat metals flight chief.


In a deployed environment they are responsible for anything and everything fabrication.


Whether it’s putting a part together or creating the part from scratch, they are there to support units stationed with the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing and those passing through.


In a recent mishap their capabilities were showcased when a bird struck the leading edge of a wing on a C-130. The small bird left a softball-sized hole in the wing and grounded the aircraft until it could be repaired.


Shortly after this occurred Liederbach and his team jumped into action to get the aircraft fitted for a one-time flight patch so it could make it back to base.


Due to the aircraft being grounded at an airfield with little to no ability to support the patching of a wing, Liederbach explained they had to pack all their tools to take with them.


We took some metal with us and made the patch on site by hand,” he said.


In just five hours they were able to get the aircraft patched and cleared for flight.


Once the aircraft was back to base, the wing leading edge panel was removed and taken to the metal shop where the extensive work would begin.


Due to the aircraft being a valuable asset to the 386 AEW’s mission, there was no time to wait for a new leading edge to be shipped.


They were going to have to repair it by creating every part and piece by hand from sheets of metal.


Liederbach explained that the damage had extended into the inner skin of the wing and had actually crushed one of the rib supports.


The creation of the new rib would be one of the most time consuming and frustrating parts of the project.


We spent about 20 hours making parts for the rib and none of them worked,” he explained. “After that time we actually sat that whole part of the project down for a day and came back to it later, and within the first 15 minutes of a shift we actually nailed the part on the first try.”


These ups and downs were faced throughout the entire rebuilding process and extended into shift changes.


A lot is lost during a shift change, because you have a lot of people working on it and then you have to explain it to other guys who haven’t been on it for 12 hours,” explained Staff Sgt. Bryan Boone, 386 EMXS combat metals craftsman.


In most cases the shift change would set the crew back a few hours while they retraced the previous shifts steps and planned their way moving forward.


After it was all said and done, the combat metals section worked 144 total hours and created more than 30 parts from scratch.


With the shop creating all the parts in house it cut nearly three weeks off the downtime of the aircraft.


“We would have potentially lost the ability to fly at least four missions, and it would have put even more strain on the remaining aircraft and crews,” explained Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Ford, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron superintendent.



Even though time was of the essence, Liederbach and his fellow non-commissioned officers took the time to explain the process to the newer Airmen.


For Senior Airman Jordyn Volk, 386 EMXS combat metals journeyman, this was his first leading edge he had worked on.


“At first you just had all of these parts laying around and you couldn’t picture it really being complete, then once we got everything put on it was a pretty big relief ,” he said.


From an outsider looking in this project could seem impossible, but for the ‘Sand Wizards’ they were confident in their ability to get it patched and get it fitted with a permanent repair.