By Mary Lou Gorny, Hilltop Times Editor
February 16, 2012
Randy Johnson, A-10 Section Chief, points out some of the improvements on Jan. 29 to the last A-10 wing improved as part of the Service Life Extension Program in the A-10 Wing Shop. Bands of stainless steel are incorporated into the wing. Full size
Roughly 12 years ago the A-10 Wing Shop opened its doors to extend the life of the A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, or Warthogs as they are affectionately known.
The last of the thin-skinned earlier versions of its aluminum wings, just finished a Service Life Extension Program, or SLEP.
"From this point on we'll just be doing Scheduled Structural Inspections (regular depot maintenance) and this will be the last one that we put through the SLEP modification," said Dee Mackliet, director, 574th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
On Jan. 29 photos were taken of the shop personnel assembled around that last wing.
Randy Johnson, A-10 Section Chief, praised his personnel. "From my perspective the important focus is our workforce has done a tremendous job on what is a real complex feat of working on the thin skins -- it's complex work and time consuming to do."
The thin skin on the A-10's earliest models was a straight skin, or two-hundredth thousandths of an inch, throughout of the aluminum sheets which make up the wing.
Later models varied in thickness to allow for more strength in areas of higher stress. Therefore, the SLEP was put into action, thousands of fasteners removed very carefully, corrosion removed and polished out, straps of stainless steel placed onto areas of importance as determined by engineers, and all of these holes and areas are inspected by NDI, before reassembly.
"The holes are all interference fit fasteners and so you have to be very, very careful," said Johnson. "Our guys are just wonderful in taking these wings that have seen so many missions, getting them in here, rebuilt, beefed up and sending them back out to the war-fighter."
Gene Taylor, 533rd CMMXS Structural Flight Chief, added his take on things: "It's more than that. I have a lot of sheet metal guys. And it's more than the sheet metal guys. The sheet metal guys are involved in that one hole and the "eye" guys are involved in that hole, the machine shop also has a task that they need to complete with the hole and then engineering is involved.
"It's a bit like an orchestra," Taylor continued. "Everybody plays their part."
Not all wings made the grade. Upon first evaluation after being brought into the shop, some have to be condemned.
Taylor said, "The fact that the A-10 was first made (approximately 34 years ago) and it's been used for much longer than it was intended to last, and here we are all these years later and we've kept it going on the sweat and effort of our mechanics and the folks working with the wing -- that the airframe has been contained is a huge testament to the airframe (itself)," he said.
Johnson praised his personnel for often working 10 hours a day, six days a week, sometimes seven days a week, for a decade on the program. Even the tools used on the aircraft had to be rebuilt requiring great skill, engineering and machine shop support.
The aircraft had been mothballed some years prior to Desert Storm and then were brought back out because of their superior use in close air support, and ergonomic guns that can go 360 degrees around.
Said Taylor, "When I was flying C-130s, we used to get some external support. We loved having A-10s there because they could hang right with us. They were perfect escorts. Anything that was moving on the ground that was a threat, they could immediately neutralize it."
Even with a leaner force, A-10s are still to be employed in the future Air Force. These beefed up wings, and a program for new wings, mean there will be parts available for their supply.
Randy Johnson (far right), A-10 Section Chief, and A-10 Wing Shop personnel pose for a photo with the last A-10 wing to go through the SLEP conversion. The wing, up on racks, can barely be seen on either side of the second row of personnel. Full size