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Fabrication Builds the Right Tool for the Right Job

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- The 120th Fighter Wing's aircraft conversion to the F-15 is well on schedule, as pilots continue with flight training and mechanics learn to maintain the new aircraft systems. 
     
A change to a new aircraft platform can present many challenges to the aircraft maintenance personnel that had become proficient working with the unit's previous aircraft, the F-16. Maintaining a new aircraft can mean a change in procedures and equipment, including the use of tools that are not often available for purchase through tool vendors or the local hardware store. 
     
When aircraft maintenance procedures require the use of specialized tools that cannot be readily obtained, the expertise of the members assigned to the 120th Maintenance Squadron's Fabrication Element comes into play and a locally manufactured tool is built. 
     
The 120th Fighter Wing Form 292, Local Manufacture Request, is initiated by the requester when a locally produced tool is required. Individuals assigned to the Quality Assurance office review the form to ensure that the tool will perform as required and meet all safety requirements. When the tool is approved for local manufacturing, the machine shop will develop a list of materials and proceed to build the tool. Once the newly made tool passes all of the required tests, it is painted, etched and placed into the tool box for use on the aircraft. 
     
According to Tech. Sgt. Shane Mikes, an aircraft armament systems journeyman, the local tool manufacturing provided by the machine and sheet metal shops is an invaluable service to help his shop get the job done. "There are a lot of tools specified in the technical orders that are not available through commercial production, and they're very specific to the systems that we use in the F-15. You go through any of our T.O.s and you see a list that says "local manufacture" on them-so we immediately have to task the machine shop with getting those tools built so we can do our jobs." 
     
Thousands of tools have been made by members of the Fabrication Element, saving millions of dollars in manufacturing costs to the120th Fighter Wing, estimates Master Sgt. Keith Bennett, a metals processing specialist. "A customer would have to take (their request) to a machine shop downtown, which is eighty dollars an hour. There are times when we worked on projects that literally have saved one-hundred thousand dollars at a time. We pay for ourselves fast," said Sgt. Bennett. 
     
The machine shop contains all the equipment needed to create the tools required for aircraft maintenance. Highly specialized equipment is utilized by members of the Fabrication Element as they build the tools, such as metal lathes, milling machines and the computer numeric control (CNC) machine. This equipment uses data entered into a computer by the operator to make precise cuts into material that is secured onto a cutting platform. 
     
The technical education becomes a great personal benefit to the Drill-Status Guardsmen assigned to the Fabrication Element as well, since many members can use the knowledge and experience gained at the 120th Fighter Wing to assist them as they pursue employment in the civilian sector. "It's very good training, because they can take the education that they get here to a downtown machine shop and have a good career in the machining industry downtown," said Sgt. Bennett. 
     
Tool schematics are often shared between units that fly similar aircraft. Innovative new tool designs that save money and time often generate cash awards provided by the government to the individual that designed the tool. 
     
Sgt. Mikes considers the work provided by the Fabrication Element to be quick, reliable and of outstanding quality. The locally-manufactured tools help his shop complete their mission requirements on time. Nearly 100 tools have been produced by the Fabrication Element for his shop alone. "Everything is perfect, they are very precise, everything is to the exact specifications that the T.O. requires," said Sgt. Mikes, adding, "the guys that we have on base are awesome, they do a wonderful job for us." 
     
Sgt. Bennett estimates that 40 percent of the work in his machine shop consists of producing locally-manufactured tools for the unit, but the creative and technical work produced by the Fabrication Element is far reaching. Nearly every section assigned to the 120th Fighter Wing has benefited from their assistance by building items such as stands, shelves or brackets.