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Two deployed KC-135s get rare engine swaps

by Master Sgt. Michael A. Ward
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/14/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN)  -- If a consumer rating service reviewed Air Force aircraft, the KC-135 Stratotanker would most certainly earn a "Best Buy" rating. After all, it is one of the most dependable aircraft in the Air Force inventory and would definitely get high marks for reliability.

But, even the best can have the occasional bad streak. Recently, engines on two separate KC-135s assigned here had to be replaced, officials said.

"I've been associated with tankers since 1995 and had never seen an engine change until I came here," said 1st Lt. Matthew Manns, of the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "I've heard of them coming off the wings for corrosion control and things of that nature, but to have two called bad in the span of four days is very unique."

"We used to be like the Maytag repairman, but the engines are starting to get old," said Staff Sgt. Eric Peterson, a 380th EAMXS engine mechanic.

The first aircraft developed an overheating problem. The second one had internal damage and needed to be repaired here, officials said.

"We knew we had the second one over our heads, but we were waiting for the investigation to be completed and the new engine to show up," Sergeant Peterson said. "It arrived a week after we got the first engine done. I was kind of hoping it would be a little longer."

The KC-135, powered by four turbojet engines, has been in the inventory since 1956. Officials said the last major upgrade to its engines began in the late1980s.

"The average engine has been on the wings for about 17 years," Lieutenant Manns said. "Mechanics don't have a whole lot of experience changing engines, so when they actually have to, there is a learning curve. For engine mechanics, this is the hardest task they will ever have."

"It's not difficult, but it is time consuming," said Staff Sgt. JC Chandler, a mechanic with the 380th EAMXS. "It's your basic removal of nuts here and there, but it's the troubleshooting that takes a lot of skill."

It takes two to three days to replace a KC-135 engine, officials said. Each engine weighs about 5,000 pounds and has thousands of parts. Putting it together requires talent. Putting it back on the wing requires a mix of engineering, hands-on labor and caution.

"I'm never excited to see an engine change because it's about one of the most dangerous jobs that we have," Sergeant Chandler said.

The engine is hoisted toward the wing on a trailer. Large chains placed around the trailer are ratcheted tight to keep the engine in place while it is being secured to its mount on the wing.

"The amount of pressure we're applying makes it extremely dangerous, especially if you are on the (stand)," Sergeant Peterson said. "You are right by the engine chain, and if it snaps, you're gone."

Once the engine is on, it is checked out and given a quality-assurance inspection.

"The first engine change went better than expected," Sergeant Peterson said. "We had zero quality-assurance defects, and that's a rare occurrence in itself."

Officials said the second engine also had no problems, and both aircraft have been returned to the flying schedule.

"When you get it all going, there's a big sense of pride," Sergeant Peterson said. "Everything comes together and everything works."

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