Cutting edge: 23d EMS metals techs cut metals, costs

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Greg Nash
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

As the screeching of machinery comes to a halt and flying sparks settle, individuals emerge from the debris with various tools in hand.

Equipped with welding machinery, plasma cutters and micrometers are the 23d Equipment Maintenance Squadron’s aircraft metals technicians, who use their knowledge and skills to fabricate and repair Moody’s aircraft and equipment.

“‘If we can’t fix it, then it’s broken,’ is a phrase we use around here,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ian Marietti, 23d EMS metals technology craftsman. “We are the last chance to get the job done. Knowing that we can fix anything that needs repair and provide that same service for all the squadrons who request our help is rewarding.”

According to Airman 1st Class Joshua Tears-Knapp, 23d EMS aircraft metals technology journeyman, it’s fulfilling knowing that their ability to precisely execute their machinery efforts and welding is essential to Moody’s mission.

“The ability to take small, raw material scraps and manufacture them into vital equipment to safely secure aircraft and its aircrew members is important,” said Tears-Knapp. “We ensure to do everything in our power to be precise and pay close attention to detail when performing jobs to be effective in the mission.”  

This attentiveness enables the metals technicians to precisely grind and weld metals within miniscule measuring constraints.

“We only have a tolerance of three thousandths of an inch, about half of a human hair, to determine if a part is good or bad,” said Marietti. “With that small of a measurement requirement, there’s no leeway for errors. A bad piece could cost thousands and potentially put lives in harm’s way. That’s why we train so much to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Metals technicians train to stay current and proficient in their fabrication efforts, which has resulted in a reliable and cost-effective option for the Air Force, Marietti added.

 “What we can do and how quickly we can accomplish our tasks is a huge asset to the Air Force,” said Marietti. “Outsourcing for welders and machinists to do our same jobs could cost the Air Force up to $80 an hour, with additional charges for designing and drawing [templates] to factor in. Ultimately, something we could complete in four hours would probably take four months with an outside agency. We take pride in knowing that we are greatly depended on.”

Marietti mentioned that fabricating 3,000 parts and repairing nearly 700 pieces of aerospace ground equipment annually isn’t easy. However, knowing that an aircraft can launch from a once small crafted block of metal he helped create makes it worthwhile.

 “It’s not easy being a metals technician because there are a lot of things you have to figure out,” said Marietti. “There aren’t any ‘normal’ days due to the unique ways of dealing with metal. The beauty of our job is anyone can craft metal a million different ways, but as long as the measurement and results come out to the accurate standards, then the task is complete. The freedom of knowing we can do it our way makes our job enjoyable.”

From troubleshooting to final fitting, these skilled Airmen weld, fabricate and custom-make the metal components critical to the functioning of aircraft knowing full well that if they fail, lives could be at risk.