Wheel and Tire Shop keeps jets rollin'

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop NCO in charge, guides a specialized wheel assembly torquing system to bolt a B-2 wheel and tire together, Feb. 16, 2010. The machine ensures proper torque is applied to each nut, ensuring the two-piece wheel is sealed air-tight . (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop NCO in charge, guides a specialized wheel assembly torquing system to bolt a B-2 wheel and tire together, Feb. 16, 2010. The machine ensures proper torque is applied to each nut, ensuring the two-piece wheel is sealed air-tight . (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop NCO in charge, places two wheel halves together in a B-2 tire, Feb. 16, 2010.  Each B-2 wheel weighs in excess of 275 lbs., and requires the use of specialized, automated equipment for assembly. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop NCO in charge, places two wheel halves together in a B-2 tire, Feb. 16, 2010. Each B-2 wheel weighs in excess of 275 lbs., and requires the use of specialized, automated equipment for assembly. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Eric Pearl, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop technician, presses two wheel halves together with the “wheel machine,” Feb. 16, 2010. Each B-2 wheel weighs in excess of 275 lbs., and requires the use of specialized, automated equipment for assembly.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Eric Pearl, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop technician, presses two wheel halves together with the “wheel machine,” Feb. 16, 2010. Each B-2 wheel weighs in excess of 275 lbs., and requires the use of specialized, automated equipment for assembly. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – An Airman from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop spins a nut on its stud while assembling a B-2 wheel and tire Feb. 16, 2010.  The next step is to torque each nut to specification, using a state-of-the-art, computerized machine.   (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – An Airman from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop spins a nut on its stud while assembling a B-2 wheel and tire Feb. 16, 2010. The next step is to torque each nut to specification, using a state-of-the-art, computerized machine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes and Senior Airman Eric Pearl, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop technicians, Put the finishing touches on a B-2 wheel assembly before rolling it to the inflation machine, Feb. 16, 2010.  Aircraft tires are filled with Nitrogen, an inert gas that expands and contracts very little in varying temperatures and altitudes.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes and Senior Airman Eric Pearl, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop technicians, Put the finishing touches on a B-2 wheel assembly before rolling it to the inflation machine, Feb. 16, 2010. Aircraft tires are filled with Nitrogen, an inert gas that expands and contracts very little in varying temperatures and altitudes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - An Airman from the 509th Aircraft Mantainence Squadron wheel and tire shop disassembles a T-38 wheel for inspection Feb. 16, 2010.  T-38 tires last anywhere from a week to 3 weeks, depending on the number of missions flown.   (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - An Airman from the 509th Aircraft Mantainence Squadron wheel and tire shop disassembles a T-38 wheel for inspection Feb. 16, 2010. T-38 tires last anywhere from a week to 3 weeks, depending on the number of missions flown. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Eric Pearl, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop, prepares to media blast a piece of a wheel from a T-38, Feb. 16, 2010. Media blasting removes foreign material and paint that is stuck to the part. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Eric Pearl, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop, prepares to media blast a piece of a wheel from a T-38, Feb. 16, 2010. Media blasting removes foreign material and paint that is stuck to the part. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Airmen from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop media blasts a piece of a T-38 wheel Feb. 16, 2010.  The wheel halves are broken down and inspected for damage at regular intervals, then repainted and assembled when they pass inspection.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Airmen from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire shop media blasts a piece of a T-38 wheel Feb. 16, 2010. The wheel halves are broken down and inspected for damage at regular intervals, then repainted and assembled when they pass inspection. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The majority of aircraft maintainers focus on keeping jets in the air, but the Airmen at the 509th Maintenance Squadron Wheel and Tire Shop have a different focus: getting those jets back to terra firma

The two-member shop that maintains all of Whiteman's B-2 and T-38 tires is rarely idle, as a steady stream of Magnesium and rubber rolls through the doors.

"All people usually see when they bring us a wheel and tire, is the new one they get in exchange, right then and there," said Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes, 509th MXS Wheel and Tire technician NCO in charge. "What they don't see, is all the work that goes into completely rebuilding these things."

As one could imagine, the tires that transition a $2.2 billion, nuclear-capable, heavy aircraft's journey from the tarmac to the air and back again are inspected intensely and often.  The actual wheels are visually inspected, as well as x-rayed for microscopic defects at regular intervals.

"In the technical order, there are wear limits, and exposure limits to things like hydraulic fluid, fuel and oil that could cause soft spots in the rubber," said Master Sgt. Heath Marinello, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron member.  "Typically, the lifespan of a B-2 tire is six months to a year depending on what kind of runways the jets are landing on." 

A T-38 tire, on the other hand, only lasts a week to three weeks, due to the higher number of missions flown and multiple landings accomplished in order to keep the pilots current on their certifications, according to Sergeant Marinello. 

"We can replace a B-2 nose tire in an hour-and-a-half," said Senior Airman Eric Pearl, wheel and tire shop technician. "A complete overhaul for a B-2 nose wheel can take up to two days."

T-38 tire replacements, which make up the majority of the workload at the shop, take anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes, according to Sergeant Marinello.

"Each $22,500 B-2 wheel and tire assembly weighs more than 275 lbs, and requires specialized, automated equipment to accomplish everything from assembly to inflation and leak-checking," said Airman Pearl.

This enormous workload and the millions of dollars in equipment and supplies required to make it happen are the sole responsibility of the NCOIC and one Airman.

"When we come in here, we know it's game time," said Sergeant Hughes.  "At the end of the day, it's very rewarding to know that we accomplished so much work, and contributed to the success of Whiteman's mission."