JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Wheel and Tire Shop is responsible for far more than meets the eye.
Thirty-one active duty Airmen and four National Guardsmen make up this unique shop, filling the supply and demand for all aircraft wheels and tires– heavy or fighter –working side by side to ensure the C-17 Globemaster III, F-22 Raptor, and E-3 Sentry can fly at all times.
The shop consists of three specialty areas: wheel and tire repair, the crash recovery team, and aero repair.
For the wheel and tire portion of this shop, crew chiefs are trained for the three types of aircraft used here. They inspect, assemble and disassemble all wheels and tires for repair.
“During pre-flight and post-flight inspections we look for numerous things; tires and wheels are absolutely something we pay close attention to,” said Airman 1st Class Clark Albers, C-17 Globemaster III crew chief and aerospace maintenance journeyman. “Depending on how hard the landings are in conjunction with how much tire and wheel wear there is, a tire may be replaced.”
During basic pre-flight and post-flight inspections, every wheel and tire is looked at for defects, damage and tread wear.
“As soon as a plane lands or prepares for take-off, every aircraft has crew chiefs who inspect on it,” Albers said. “At our shop we get the wheels that are bad and need to be rebuilt as well as inspect all inventory of our war-ready equipment.”
The first thing a crew chief looks at is the removal due date tag. If the tag indicates the wheel is within a certain timeframe of needing replacement, it will be repaired in the shop. If it is in really bad shape, the wheel will be sent to depot-level maintenance. Bad tires have to be sent to Dunlop to be refurbished.
After the removal due date tag is checked, the tires and wheels have to be cleaned, washed and visually inspected.
“We are looking for heat damage, missing paint, gouging, and dents in the wheel. Discrepancies determine where the repair is done or who will do the repair,” Albers said. “After we do our visual inspection, we make a job order for the non-destructive inspection team to use their X-ray equipment to check for stress fractures and more. Once the NDI is completed, the last step is to put a new tire on the wheel. This process takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the circumstances.”
The Wheel and Tire Shop also covers military aircraft in the case of in-flight or ground emergencies. This additional facet is the crashed downed disabled aircraft recovery team.
“In our daily duties we run a 24/7 operation that covers in-flight and ground emergency events for the JBER airfield,” said Tech. Sgt. Danny L. James III, wheel and tire shop noncommissioned officer in charge. “Our CDDAR is notified via land mobile radio or the crash phone located in our shop. We then use the LMR to establish and maintain contact with Air Traffic Control to gain access to the aircraft in distress.”
An example of an emergency could be a fighter aircraft with inoperative brakes having to use the aircraft restraint system, catching the aircraft tail hook onto a barrier cable across the runway, James said.
Emergencies can range anywhere from component failures such as landing gear to flight control failure that can impede safe take-offs and landings.
“Our response time is especially important because its reestablishes safe paths for other aircraft landings,” James said. “When on shift, we must maintain the ability to immediately respond to reported emergencies once dispatched.”
The CDDAR team works in tandem with the JBER battalion fire chief to declare the scene and aircraft safe to approach, and then clear to be removed from the runway.
“In the unlikely event of an asset going down within the JBER area of responsibility, our team and other agencies on base will be tasked with recovery and transport of that downed asset,” James said. “We have a wide range of equipment that gives us the ability to travel to the site of the aircraft. This equipment can lift and maneuver partial or complete units onto flatbed trucks – given the terrain – disassemble and airlift via helicopter.”
The team also has to account for the possibility of extreme Alaska weather they may encounter while on a recovery mission.
“We equip our personnel with cold weather survival skill courses, specialized self-aid and buddy care, as well as climbing, rappelling, mountaineering skills, and equipment hauling systems,” James said. “We take pride in our abilities and in the training we go through. We're confident that we are prepared to take on all challenges when it comes to protecting and recovering Air Force operations here at JBER.”
To stay current on training the CDDAR team has been known to perform lifts of the static aircraft on display at Heritage Park just across from the 3rd Wing headquarters building.
The team has also worked closely with Pacific Air Forces and the state of Alaska to recover wreckage during the ongoing Colony Glacier mission.
The third specialty part of the shop is aero repair. Within the shop, each mechanic specializes in maintaining a particular airframe, but sometimes they are called to assist with other aircraft on the ramp as needed when there is a high-volume of work to be done.
If the aircrews notice an issue with the aircraft or the crew chiefs identify an issue during their inspections, they will notify them to fix the component.
At JBER Airmen have a unique opportunity to learn all three aircraft in one shop as well as crash and recovery operations. This is both cost effective for the Air Force and also allows Airmen to receive training they wouldn’t ordinarily have access to.