My adventures as a Grissom Honorary Commander continued in September with a visit to the 434th Maintenance Group. This group has the mountainous task of maintaining and repairing the planes at Grissom Air Reserve Base.
From fabricating sheet metal to changing tires to replacing an engine, this crew does it all. They have machines to suck the nitrogen out of the air to fill tires, they have a giant drill press with bits that go up to 3″ in diameter, they even have jacks to lift a KC-135 off the ground.
We visited the nondestructive inspection unit, which is like a science lab for mechanics. They have all the fun toys. They can run all kinds of tests to determine the strength and conductivity of metals. They can do a magnetic particle inspection and use blacklight to find cracks in metal parts. Then they can use a microscopic camera to look at the cracks up close and determine whether they can be repaired. They also have a really cool machine that can test the makeup of oils and help them determine which part of the plane is breaking down and may need maintenance.
You never really think about all the work that goes into keeping these planes running and looking great. All those moving parts and instruments have to be working all the time. The KC-135s were made in the late 50s/early 60s and the 434th Maintenance Group keeps these planes running like new. Many of the parts are no longer manufactured, but this group can fabricate new parts or recycle old parts when needed. They have one amazing task, and they’re doing an amazing job.
At the end of the day, we took a detour to the new $7.5 million air traffic control tower. Wow! It is beautiful and a much-needed upgrade from the old tower. It is amazing to look out those windows at the airfield. We had a great opportunity to walk out on the catwalk just as a KC-135 was coming in for a landing, and we watched it taxi in just a couple hundred yards away. Another awesome day at Grissom!