Metals technicians support critical resources

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Walker James, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology technician, mills keys on fuse torque adaptor sockets at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 30, 2018

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Walker James, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology technician, mills keys on fuse torque adaptor sockets at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 30, 2018. Metals technology Airmen use a variety of tools to create, adjust or repair various aircraft maintenance resources including mills, welders and lathes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Walker James, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology technician, uses a blueprint to calculate measurements at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 30, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Walker James, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology technician, uses a blueprint to calculate measurements at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 30, 2018. The metals technology shop creates aircraft parts and tools from blueprints as well as “per sample,” where they duplicate a requested item. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Peter Lockett, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology technician, adjusts the settings on a lathe to shave down a piece of metal at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 30, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Peter Lockett, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology technician, adjusts the settings on a lathe to shave down a piece of metal at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 30, 2018. Precision tolerances for items from the metals technology shop can range from zero to around the width of a piece of paper. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- In a dark room, an Airman sweats, hunched over the intensity of his work. A face shield protects his eyes from the blinding light and sparks while he wields his experienced hands over unrefined metal, shaping it into an operational part.

Aircraft metals technicians assigned to the 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron maintain 24-hour operations to assist in flightline readiness by creating objects including aircraft components and tools.

“We are salvage experts,” said Tech. Sgt. Steven Edwards, 20th EMS metals technology noncommissioned officer in charge. “Anytime an aircraft part or aerospace ground equipment or other shops have tools or items that are broken, we either fix them or make them from scratch.”

Tech. Sgt. Adam Gant, 20th EMS aircraft metals technology craftsman, said if their technical orders allow them to repair an item, they first begin with determining the material and then either follow a provided blueprint or make the part “per sample,” meaning the requester provides an item and the metals shop takes its dimensions to make a duplicate.

Metals technology is very math-based, said Edwards. The job requires someone who is very detail-oriented, as the precision tolerances of items can range from exactly zero to about the width of a piece of paper.

Using their accuracy, the 20th EMS metals technology shop supports approximately $3.4 billion in aircraft and around $34 million in aerospace ground equipment, saving the maintenance units on base millions of dollars throughout the year.

As and the F-16CM Fighting Falcon grows older and fewer manufacturers make parts for the frame, the metals technology shop grows busier to support current operations and maintain the base’s F-16s.

“We have a pretty big impact on the wing,” said Edwards. “A lot of times when maintenance comes to us, it’s because that plane is already grounded and they’re trying to get it back in the sky instead of waiting months or longer for a depot repair or a part to be manufactured and shipped.”

Metals technicians provide assets for 20th Fighter Wing aircraft and Airmen throughout the various sections of the mission. Their support allows the flightline to maintain readiness and continue current operations with close-air support and suppression of enemy air defenses airpower.