HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Sandpaper scrapes along the wing of an MQ-9 Reaper. Debris drifts to the ground. The smell of chemical agents saturate the air. Squeals from an F-16 Fighting Falcon engine fill the temperature-controlled back shop. But, the Airmen are focused. There’s a job to be done – and it has to be done right.
This is a normal day in the 49th Maintenance Squadron’s sheet metal shop.
“Aircraft structural maintenance is basically performing bodywork on aircraft,” said Senior Airman Devon Guillory, a 49th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance technician. “We re-manufacture parts that are no longer available for the Air Force to buy. We do a lot of back shop repairs and flight line jobs with both the F-16s and the MQ-9s.”
These Airmen are responsible for keeping MQ-9s and F-16s structurally sound and mission-ready. This requires technicians to think on their feet and be prepared for any odd-job that comes their way.
“My favorite part of my job is being able to work on different aircraft,” said Guillory. “We aren’t specific to one aircraft. We can work on anything from heavies, to fighters, to bombers. The most challenging part is thinking about what specific repairs need to be done. The [technical order] doesn’t specify exactly what needs to be done, so you have to think for yourself and come up with an idea to make that repair work.”
Jobs vary greatly, ranging from structural to cosmetic repairs.
“A regular day usually consists of stuck screws and standoffs on the flight line,” said Airman 1st Class Joshua Guthrie, a 49th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance technician. “Back shop jobs usually consist of regular structural repairs on different types of panels. That’s my favorite part of the job -- the different repairs we get to do. On a daily basis you never know what you’re going to get -- a scarf repair on the MQ-9, or a doubler and filler on an F-16.”
Most recently, the Airmen have been working on an MQ-1 Predator static aircraft.
“The MQ-1 is retiring in a couple months, and the 49th Wing is putting a static display in Heritage Park,” said Guthrie. “We are doing a lot of work to make sure it looks good and is ready for display.”
The technicians in the sheet metal shop also work within the Fabrication flight to ensure aircraft are capable to accomplish the mission.
“If there are any cracks, anywhere, Non-Destructive Inspection will discover it, then we go out and make a repair for it,” said Guthrie. “Metals tech then makes different parts if we can’t order them. We all work together to make sure we can keep the birds in the air.”