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"Tank Rats" create new tool in 12 hours

Airmen 1st Class Elijah Brown and Steven Graves prepare to enter the fuel tanks for the Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System. Airmen must wear these GORE-TEX textured suits and ventilators to protect their respiratory systems and skin from the fuel and toxins while working on the aircraft fuel systems (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson)

Airmen 1st Class Elijah Brown and Steven Graves prepare to enter the fuel tanks for the Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System. Airmen must wear these GORE-TEX textured suits and ventilators to protect their respiratory systems and skin from the fuel and toxins while working on the aircraft fuel systems (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson)

This new vent system pressurization tool was created by members of the 552nd Aircraft Fuel Systems unit, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, and civilian engineers based out of Tinker Air Force Base. This tool, which is over 26 ft. long and typically has a gauge on it, was created in less than 12 hours after retrieving parts from local supply stores in Oklahoma City. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Master Sgt. Richard E. Newman)

This new vent system pressurization tool was created by members of the 552nd Aircraft Fuel Systems unit, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, and civilian engineers based out of Tinker Air Force Base. This tool, which is over 26 ft. long and typically has a gauge on it, was created in less than 12 hours after retrieving parts from local supply stores in Oklahoma City. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Master Sgt. Richard E. Newman)

The Aircraft Fuel Systems unit, also known as the Tinker Tank Rats, is composed of 52 members. They are located in Bldg. 976 on the south side of Tinker Air Force Base. Here they maintain the fuel tanks of the Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson)

The Aircraft Fuel Systems unit, also known as the Tinker Tank Rats, is composed of 52 members. They are located in Bldg. 976 on the south side of Tinker Air Force Base. Here they maintain the fuel tanks of the Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – “What’s the game plan,” said the Accessories Flight Chief. “Well Sir, I do not think you are going to like it… we are going to have to do something that has never been done before,” replied Tech. Sgt. Marquis Gaines.

This was the conversation that led to the creation of a new vent system pressurization tool by the 552nd Maintenance Squadron Fuel Systems section, the Tank Rats, for the Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System fleet in less than 12 hours’ time.

The 552nd Fuel Systems section started noticing a recurring theme with one of their aircraft dating back as early as 2015.

“Since 2015, a specific AWACS aircraft has had an intermittent history of fuel coming out of the right wing tip when making a hard left turn during taxiing. Don’t be alarmed, fuel exiting the wing tip is normal operation, but not on the ground during taxiing operations and not this often,” said Master Sgt. Richard Newman, the Flight Chief of Aircraft Fuels Section. “We would follow our technical order troubleshooting steps and change the check valve on the vent system, put the aircraft back on the line, and in six to nine months, the same problem would start occurring again. This has happened every year since 2015, but only when taxiing; the aircraft history proves we couldn’t pin point where the exact problem was coming from because the check valve was our focal point. It was time we got to the bottom of this.”

While this was only an issue with one specific aircraft, the Tank Rats turned to the Technical Order guidance of the AWACS dating back from the introduction of the fleet in 1977 to solve this problem. Within this guidance, a two inch by two inch black and white photo illustrated a hose with an on/off valve connected to the wing tip. The only problem was the guidance did not provide any instructions on what it was or how to create this hose.

“With no direction, we reached out to our civilian engineers, members at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and former Tank Rats,” said Newman. “Out of the dozens of individuals we engaged with, no one had seen this vent system hose or a prototype in more than 12 years.”

After working with these teams and engineers, the Tank Rats created a new vent system pressurization tool with hose fittings, adapters, and a gauge from local supply points around the Tinker community.  In less than 12 hours, they created a new vent system pressurization tool that allowed them to pressurize the vent system with air.  With this new tool, technicians were able to pinpoint two cracked welds in the fuel vent system as well as three areas with worn out sealant. Prior to this new tool, the Tank Rats could not apply pressure to check for leaks in the vent system.

“The best part is that while a vent system pressurization tool was created for Tinker Air Force Base, we also created one for the road,” said Gaines. “With units operating out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, Kadena Air Base in Japan and in deployed locations, this will allow for one of the vent system pressurization tools to travel with the aircraft.

Although this only occurred with one specific aircraft, as the already 40-year-old AWACS fleet, it is expected that more aircraft will experience failed components inside the vent system and this new vent system pressurization tool will be beneficial for the rest of the fleet.

“Whether finding innovative solutions, or dusting off of old ones, it’s another example the professionalism our 552nd maintainers show every day in sustaining the AWACS fleet and supporting the mission of America’s Wing,” said Col. Bill Chudko, the 552nd Maintenance Group Commander. “Pull Chocks, Maintenance Rocks!”