SOUTHWEST ASIA -- With the highest volume of flying missions in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, aircraft at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing rely on a team of professional maintainers to keep them in top shape to accomplish the mission.
Among the maintenance back shops, the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aero repair shop is responsible for "heavy maintenance" on all aircraft here including landing gear, flight controls and other major components.
"Our flight proudly maintains five different aircraft (the C-130 Hercules, B-1B, KC-135 Stratotanker, RC-135 Rivet Joint and E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) deployed here from 16 different bases," said Senior Master Sgt. David Paxton, the 379th EMXS maintenance flight chief.
Within the aero repair shop, each mechanic specializes in maintaining a particular airframe, but sometimes they are called to assist with other aircraft on the ramp as needed when there is a high-volume of work to be done, said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Adams, a 379th EMXS repair and reclamation craftsman.
"I specifically work on KC-135's," Adams said. "However, we're such a small shop, we all tend to touch all of the aircraft and help each other out."
The shop has performed more than 350 major aircraft repairs this year, saving the Air Force money in maintenance and estimated shipping costs.
"If we weren't here, anytime there was a major failure in landing gear, flight controls or if the pilots had an issue with keeping the aircraft stable, they would always have to call out depot (major aircraft maintenance) teams to come look at the aircraft." Adams said. "We get the heavy maintenance done so the Air Force doesn't have to spend a lot of money sending planes back home."
If the aircrews notice an issue with the aircraft or the crew chiefs identify an issue during their inspections, they will notify the maintenance back shops to fix the component.
"They might come to us and say, 'Hey this aircraft landed and its landing gear was slow to retract,'" Adams said. "Then we will go out to the aircraft and with our technical data and tools to take care of it. If the aircraft is about to go back out on a mission, we are expected to go out as quickly as possible to make sure they don't miss their mission."
Sometimes the problem isn't obvious, and they have to perform in-depth troubleshooting to figure out exactly what is causing a particular malfunction, Adams said.
"According to [Air Force Instruction 21-101 Aircraft and Equipment Maintenance Management), our job description is 'To perform maintenance above the capability of any other shop,'" Martin said. "So if another shop can't figure it out, we don't have the option to say we can't do it or go somewhere else, we have to be able to fix it."
Additionally, the crew is also the crash recovery team; in case of a downed aircraft, they have the capability to take the steps to recover it, whether it's here or other locations in the area.
"Any type of aircraft incident, we respond to and help clean up," said Tech. Sgt. Ronald Martin, a 379th EMXS KC-135 shop team leader. "We can do anything from lifting an aircraft with a crane or airbags, or if one (aircraft) runs off into the dirt, we de-bog it."
More than 50 shop repair technicians specializing in different airframes and deployed from all over the world come together to keep aircraft flying in support of the operations here.
"We live by a culture of safe and compliant maintenance every day," Paxton said. "And in so doing so, we provide safe and reliable aircraft to our aircrews to accomplish their mission AFCENT area of responsibility -- protecting the warfighter."