The “boom experts” for USAF’s KC-135 aerial tanker reside at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, Tinker AFB, Okla., in two shops whose sole function is to ensure each aircraft’s refueling boom—the fuel transfer tube—is up to snuff. In one shop, 22 mechanics—certified in the unlikely bedfellows of electronics, hydraulics, and sheet metal—overhaul the booms when needed. A minor job requires about 700 manhours; a more extensive overhaul may take 1,000 manhours. In the other shop, four mechanics perform periodic depot maintenance. For that, the boom comes off and, over 15 days, the mechanics replace bearings, check cable systems, and remove paint to check for cracks, among other fixes. In its normal workload, the boom crews may process 12 booms per month.
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.