On the flightline with maintainers - hydraulics

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hrair H. Palyan
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's Note: This feature story is part of the "On the Flightline with Maintainers" series that focuses on the Airmen who maintain B-1 bombers and the impact they have on the Air Force mission.)

Ellsworth B-1 bombers have provided the U.S. with ground and air superiority for more than two decades - an accomplishment that wouldn't be possible if not for Airmen who work tirelessly around-the-clock to service and repair the base's bomber fleet.

Aircraft hydraulics systems specialists are one of the six specialties under the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron specialist section umbrella who are responsible for making sure each B-1 at Ellsworth functions properly.

For each of a B-1s four engines, there are two hydraulic pumps and one hydraulic system - all of which work together to make certain a variety of B-1 processes and equipment, including flight controls, landing gear, brakes and bomb bay door systems, operate correctly.

Hydraulics Airmen attend a 49 day-long technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. While the school provides them with the skills they need to accomplish their mission, experience learned "on the line" is what counts the most.

Staff Sgt. Bryce Woodall, 28th AMXS hydraulics lead technician, has been a technician for more than 6 years and helped ready jets when aircrews from Ellsworth launched in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's mission to protect civilians from enemy attack during the uprising and civil war in Libya.

"Aircrews usually push the B-1 to its limit," Woodall said. "What we usually find after the crews return from a mission is a beat-up B-1 with a lot of fluid leaks. We get called in to check and see why a system or part is experiencing trouble and then we figure out how to fix it as quickly as possible."

Woodall explained how he has borne witness to a number of flights being delayed due to insufficient pressure on a hydraulic system. He said without sufficient pressure, aircrews don't have the ability to make split-second decisions during a mission due to sluggish flight controls.

"The hydraulic systems on the B-1 have very high-micron filters - the smallest gunk can clog it and that can easily result in insufficient pressure on a hydraulic system," said Woodall. "It can seem like a tedious task at times to replace or unclog those filters, but it's crucial that we do. The safety of the aircrew depends on it."

Senior Airman Christopher Voelker, 28th AMXS hydraulics technician who works in the hydraulics back-shop, is responsible for repairing a number of B-1 parts, including brakes and hydraulic accumulators.

"I just returned from a deployment to Southwest Asia with the 37th Bomb Squadron," Voelker said. "Although my job here is basically the same as it was out there, my perspective definitely broadened. Instead of flight training being affected negatively, it was actual missions for people who needed help. The deployment gave me a better understanding of how my role as a maintenance Airman helps the mission. Ground troops utilize us a lot out there, so I do my job the best I can so we're ready when the call comes in."

Woodall began describing one of his deployments to Southwest Asia in 2011, when he helped generate a B-1 that just returned after eliminating Libyan targets in support of OOD.

"The B-1 was being refueled for another strike in Libya on their way back to Ellsworth," Woodall recalled. "While we were troubleshooting, we found that the accessory power unit responsible for providing power to the bomb bay doors and releasing ordnance burned up. It usually takes us more than two hours to change an APU, but because we were in such a hurry and had additional manpower to accomplish the mission, we had it all done safely in 30 minutes."

Woodall added that he had never seen an entire base come together to accomplish a mission the way they did during OOD.

"It felt like everyone was waiting on us to get our job done so that they could get their job done," emphasized Woodall. "I'm glad that we were all able to work quickly alongside each other. That's what it takes. Lives are on the line and we all have to contribute."