Nearly 60 years. That’s how old the B-52 is.
But the Air Force plans to keep this bomber in service for at least another 25 years. In order to do so, a lot of shops on Barksdale Air Force Base work to keep this aircraft flying high.
It’s no secret the B-52 is getting old. Parts of this plane inevitably wear down. But there’s a shop on Barksdale keeping the plane flying like new.
“We are the modern day blacksmiths of the B-52 aircraft,"said Master Sgt. David Griffore.
Airmen at the Metals Technology Shop manufacture portions of the aircraft from scratch.
“As this bird continues to get older, we have to find ourselves making parts that normally would be procured by a supply system," Griffore said.
They are responsible for things like designing, repairing and fabricating parts of the aircraft, using original blue-prints of the B-52. But the word precision is vital when making a part.
“We machine bushings or anything down to a thousand of an inch. For example, a human hair is approximately 16 thousand so we work with precision that’s smaller than 16 human hairs," said Senior Airman Wesley Roberts.
Griffore said: “Our job is always dealing around precision. The precision of the parts that we make or the precision of the holes that we drill, everything is critical to the functionality of a jet engine that’s being mounted or a spoiler bracket. We have to make sure that those things are absolutely critically met by blue-prints or technical data.”
Airmen also precision weld in this shop. Interestingly enough, no other shop welds in the Air Force but Metals Technology.
Senior Airman Carolina Herrera is a welder at this shop and explained what she does.
“What I’m looking for is complete penetration as well as an even beat, meaning I’m hitting both the top and the bottom metal at a 45-degree angle. This means the puddle that will be form will be equal on both sides," Herrera said.
And then, there’s a jet machine that works under water. It cuts pieces of metal using a sand-like material that blasts with a force of 30 thousand pounds per square inch.
But how does it work? All you need is a flat piece of metal like this one, and then you input the design you want into that computer and within minutes. Viola, you have your part.
But why under water?
“It cuts under water because it cuts at an extremely high temperature. And if that cutter dips above the water, it will be extremely loud and could cause hearing loss. And it provides a barrier because it shoots at such velocity that it will spray that granulated powder everywhere," said Roberts.
Other shops on base work hard to also keep the B-52 flying. But if Metals Technology can’t fix it, the part will be decommissioned to the boneyard.
“We are the last resort and we are called the backup of the backups," said Herrera.
Metals technology technicians are ready 24/7 to perform orthopedic surgery to fix any structural damage. A lot of the airmen who work in this shop are reservist. If you would like to join or learn more, go to https://www.307bw.afrc.af.mil/