Machine Shop Airmen Keep Tankers Flying

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
This is aircraft maintenance reduced to its most basic elements. In the machine shop of the Michigan Air National Guard's 191st Maintenance Squadron, you almost have to use your imagination to believe that these Airmen are in fact working on aircraft components. In here, the scent of jet exhaust is easily covered by the smell of solvents, lubricants and a hint of burning metal in the air.

The 191st MXS Machine Shop is where you will find Airmen like Technical Sgts. Mark Cone and Mike Moale, skilled tradesmen with decades of experience with the lathes and the milling machines and the welding tools that it takes to make things work.

"I've just always been a hands-on person," Cone says, pausing for a moment before resuming his work on a lathe where he was spending the Saturday morning of his Air National Guard drill weekend. He spent his weekend creating a number of hollow bolts that eventual will be used in the fuel cell of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft.

The machine shop Airmen use a several different types of industrial tools and machines to craft or repair small metal parts. Eventually, all of the parts will be used in various aircraft and related equipment and systems.

"The good thing about this kind of work, Cone says, from behind a pair of safety glasses, "is that you work on something and then, at the end of the day, you have actually made something, just working from raw components."

Behind a safety screen, Moale is in the TIG welding bay. There, he is working on crafting some metal supports to be used in conjunction with a safety harness that is used in the cargo bay openings of the KC-135 when the aircraft is on the ground and the various hatches are open.

Both Cone and Moale bring a wealth of experience to their military work from their civilian professions. Moale is soon to retire after 30 years of working with the city of Detroit as a welder. He began his military career on active duty in the U.S. Navy as a machinist and then spent a number of years in that capacity in the Navy Reserve. He made the switch to Air Force Blue about 10 years ago, first with the Air Force Reserve and then the Air National Guard, both at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

"Being a part of the military has been a big part of my life," Moale said. "I know that the work we do in our shop really contributes to something much larger."

Cone worked for about 25 years in various machine shops in the Detroit area, as part of the auto industry. A couple of years ago, he joined the 191st MXS as a full-time technician.

"Being in the Guard opened that up as an option for me," Cone said.

While Cone and Moale were working toward the rear of the machine shop, Airman 1st Class Christopher Raska was busy using a milling machine to make the initial cuts on a piece of metal that he would eventually turn over to Cone to finish on the lathe. While each Airman in this shop is trained on all of the different machines, they work as a team on their various projects, to maximize efficiency. So, while Raska was milling one piece, Cone was finishing another on the lathe.

The whirring of the machine stopped for a moment and Raska stepped back to examine his work, so far.

"My dad served at Selfridge and I think that's what first interested me," he said.

"Obviously, the education benefits available from the Air Force are a pretty big incentive, too," the Airman added, as he used a wire brush to clean off a metal block now turned into a bolt.

The junior member of the machine shop team, Raska has been a member of the Air National Guard for about two years. He is also a full-time student at Ferris State University, where he is majoring in electrical engineering.

"The Guard is helping to pay for my college and I enjoy the work that I get to do when I come out here for my weekend," Raska said.

The 191st MXS is a part of the 127th Air Refueling Group, which operates and maintains the KC-135. Known as "tankers," the KC-135's primary function is to serve as an air-to-air refueling platform, extending the reach of U.S. Air Force to be able to project air power on a global scale. The 127th ARG is in turn a component of the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard. The 127th Wing also includes elements that operate and maintain the A-10 Thunderbolt II, an attack aircraft, as well as various support ele
ments.

Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marked its 96th year of continuous military air operations in 2013.