TAMPA, Fla. — The KC-135R Stratotanker is a staple for the Air Force and MacDill Air Force Base.  Twenty-four are currently stationed at MacDill.  Right now, one is offline as crews will spend the next month fixing a major crack in the landing gear near the left wing.  

A maintenance crew found the hidden crack during a routine inspection, but a similar problem on another KC-135 caused the landing gear to go into the wing on landing in October of 2018.  No one on board was hurt.   

The KC-135 is a Vietnam era tanker. It refuels aircraft in-flight, so they can continue their mission and avoid landing in contested regions.  The aging fleet has gone through upgrades over the years but will be phased out as the new KC-46 Pegasus moves into circulation.  

The 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill invited 10News out to see the work being done to repair the damaged KC-135 and to show off some innovative technology they’re developing to push the Air Force forward.  

The depot maintenance crew based at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma was brought in to do the repairs.  The damaged KC-135 could not make the flight because of the potential danger.  

“Worst-case scenario: The left main landing gear which had the crack could go up into the wing and they’d still be able to land it, but it would be a catastrophic failure as far as the structural components of the left main landing gear,” Tech Sgt. Joseph Caldwell said.  

His team first noticed the crack.  On the surface, it looked like it was about seven inches, relatively small. Once the part, which has been on the plane since the 1950s, came off that crack turned out to be much larger. 

“It’s about a 17 to 20-inch crack.  This is actually the first one we found here at MacDill,” said TSgt. Caldwell.  

The other 23 tankers have been checked and cleared.  

As crews worked to fix the tanker, the team at MacDill showed off part of what they’re doing to increase the longevity of the aging KC-135 fleet. 

As part of their Condition Based Maintenance, crews are challenged to innovate to find solutions that are modern and cost-effective.  One such innovation is already saving the team time and money.  

“This right here is a thermal imaging camera that uses infrared technology and we use it to detect heat signatures on the aircraft,” staff Sgt Garrett Riley said 

Another airman from MacDill, who has experience working with cars, suggested using thermal imaging technology and the Air Force invested.  

Sgt. Riley explained how the thermal imaging camera works.  

“If we see a heat signature in an area that it’s not supposed to be going to, it’s bypassing and fluid is traveling to another part of the aircraft it shouldn’t be,” he said. 

If they don’t see a heat signature that could also be a problem.  

“It could be seized up and that part is bad internally as well.  From there we are able to change it.  It actually saves us a lot of time by not having to disassemble components and then tests them in the back shop,” he said.  

Sgt. Riley said the thermal imaging allows them to pinpoint a problem in a massive aircraft, fix it and get them back in the sky.  

10News also got to check out the maintenance shop.  If you think your garage is organized, think again.  They use a state-of-the-art computerized lift and storage system.  It keeps parts and tools organized and forces accountability.

They know who checked out certain parts, where they were taken and for what purpose.  

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