By Joseph Mather, Robins Public Affairs
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – When it comes to corrosion, people are familiar with rust on cars.
With aircraft exposed to extreme flight conditions, however, corrosion has more costly effects, such as decreased service life of both the aircraft itself and their parts.
The 558th Aircraft Maintenance Support Squadron’s Corrosion Control Team, part of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, used its craft to extend aircraft’s service life.
“The mission of corrosion control is to protect the aircraft,” said Todd Lavender, 558th AMXSS process engineer and squadron‘s corrosion control process manager. “It’s not for looks. It’s mainly for us to make sure there is not any corrosion associated with the aircraft so it can continue to fly longer.”
Lavender said once the aircraft arrive at Robins for scheduled programmed depot maintenance they are processed and transferred to the corrosion control team for paint removal.
“We masked the aircraft to begin the de-paint process,” he said. “Once that is completed we apply a chemical mixture of benzyl-alcohol and peroxide onto the aircraft that takes the paint off of the aircraft.”
Removing the paint from the aircraft is an important step in the PDM process.
“It is important to de-paint the aircraft so you can make sure you see all the areas that have potential to corrosion,” he said. “There are specific areas on the aircraft that are more prone to corrosion than others. De-painting the aircraft uncovers and exposes the surface so they can make repairs as needed to the aircraft.”
Once de-painted, the aircraft undergoes PDM and is returned to corrosion control to be painted, completing the PDM process.
“The paint gate is 7-12 days depending on the aircraft, said Lavender. “It takes approximately four hours to add primer and topcoat. All the other days are surface preparation for masking and sealing the aircraft.”
Lavender said once critical areas of the aircraft are masked they apply a non-chrome containing surface pretreatment over the surface and that helps the primer stick to the aircraft. The primer contains hexavalent chromium that protects the aircraft from future corrosion.
Once the aircraft has primer applied, it receives its topcoat.
“A C-5 aircraft is about 36,000 square-feet; and volume wise, we have about 180 gallons of primer on the aircraft. Then, we use about 220 gallons of top coat,” said Lavender. “The corrosion control paint portion takes about 3,000 man hours for each aircraft.”
Lavender said it takes about 35 people to safely paint a large aircraft.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lavender’s team faced a unique challenge.
“Throughout the pandemic, there were often times that manpower was reduced due to quarantine and isolation,” Lavender said. “Many times we had to combine painters from different areas within the support squadron. When you are accustomed to painting a specific airframe, it is sometimes difficult to quickly learn the techniques required to paint another airframe.”
Virtual reality technology provided a solution to the cross training challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“Currently, the Department of Defense is evaluating many different methods to effectively train our work force, specifically painting,” Lavender said.
A painter can cross train in a VR atmosphere and gain necessary skills on a variety of aircraft.
“The future of virtual reality aircraft paint training will provide focused development of basic skills for painting an aircraft,” said Lavender. “The painter can transition into an augmented reality environment where they will have access to all of the pertinent information – air pressure, fluid pressure, pump pressure, fluid flow, mil thickness, etc. – they require to provide a quality paint finish.”
A quality finish is what WR-ALC customers want to see, Lavender said.
“The first thing the customer sees is the paint job when the aircraft touches down at its home station,” he said. “So making sure you have a quality product leaving here is key to the customer accepting the whole aircraft. They do not see the work on the overhaul but they see the paint job, and if they see a bad paint job they assume the work may have been sub-par as well.”
With a plan to roll out VR aircraft paint training by mid-summer, Lavender said he is pleased with his team’s work.
“It is a good feeling to know that we produced a quality product that is helping to get boots on the ground,” he said. “The corrosion control mission extends the lifecycle of our aged aircraft that fly missions worldwide in support of the Air Force and the warfighter.”