The high-pitched whine of a drill and the whirling buzz and grinding screech of a Dremel tool cutting into the skin of an HC-130 Hercules airplane echo in an Air Station Kodiak hangar as members of the metal shop make repairs to a damaged portion of the plane’s skin.
“We are making this repair to the plane because our aircrews’ safety is our top priority and the damaged area could be dangerous to the aircrews and aircraft,” said Chief Petty Officer Robert Fielder, an aviation maintenance technician with Air Station Kodiak. “When there is damage to a pressurized area of the plane the Coast Guard has strict policies on the proper steps to repair the damage and we take those policies seriously.”
The skin repair to the plane is just under the search and rescue scanner window. If left unrepaired, the in-flight pressures could affect the skin during flight.
The area being fixed affects cabin pressurization. Cabin pressurization is the pumping of compressed air into an aircraft cabin to maintain a safe and comfortable environment for crew and passengers when flying at altitude.
Fielder explained the effects pressurization has on an aircraft’s skin.
“Think of an aluminum soda can with a dent or damage,” said Fielder. “If you bend the can’s skin back and forth in the damaged area it weakens the integrity of the metal, which will eventually crack and break. Much like that of an aluminum can, any damage to the skin in a pressurized area of a C-130 with the constant pressure from inside the airplane and the effects of altitude changes could possibly cause that area to crack and break open in mid-flight, which could be hazardous to the aircrew.”
In the 20 years Fielder has been in the Coast Guard he has only seen this type of repair twice.
Petty Officer 1st Class Mathew Shackelford and Petty Officer 3rd Class James Sullivan, both aviation maintenance technicians with Air Station Kodiak, have been working on making the repair to the aircraft under the guidance of Fielder.
Shackelford said he enjoys the opportunity to be a part of this repair because fabricating and working with metal is a skill he acquired in the Coast Guard’s aviation world.
“To be able to put the skills I’ve learned working with metal is great, but having the opportunity to share and train those under me is rewarding,” said Shackelford. “I had a mentor, now retired from the Coast Guard, who gave me great training in metal work. The opportunity to pass his wisdom on to the younger AMTs is an awesome experience.”
“We take any repairs to aircraft seriously, and with this one we want to make them as soon as possible to get the airplane back in the air,” said Shackelford. “Our primary objective is to complete the repair correctly and safely the first time through no matter how long it takes. If its progress goes faster than we originally anticipated then that is great!”