NORFOLK, Virginia –
Pilots cannot taxi, take off or land an aircraft without tires. But whose job is it to service the tires?
The first-in-class aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) tire shop is run by aviation structural mechanics (AM), and they are the only rate that work on aircraft tires.
Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Daniel Mitchell and Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman Keldon Haselden are two Sailors who work in the aviation tire shop of Ford as part of the aircraft intermediate maintenance department (AIMD) responsible for the upkeep of every tire onboard.
“The tire shop is responsible for the deconstruction, inspection, replacement and cleaning of all aviation tires and rims onboard,” Mitchell said.
There are all kinds of tires aboard Ford, including helicopter tires, plane tires, forklift tires, crane, and tractor tires. Mitchell and Haseldon’s shop specializes in aviation tires.
“I love working with my hands and the tire shop has definitely allowed me to do just that,” Haselden said.
Inspecting each tire can include looking at the tread to see if it is cracked, frayed or worn. Some tires are deconstructed and then reconstructed for later use; others may just need to be filled with nitrogen. Some tires have ball bearings inside the rim, which may need to be cleaned or replaced.
“When reconstructing a tire, we take the bearings out and put them in the part washer, clean all the old grease and dirt out of the bearing,” Haselden said. “We check for corrosion, re-grease it and wrap it with a liner and place them back into the tire.”
Mitchell stated there is a log of each tire, showing its lifespan and how many landings it has been through.
“After a certain number of landings, the tire will be inspected and possibly replaced,” Mitchell said. “Certain types of tires may not need to be replaced as often. Jet tires, for instance, may be replaced more often than helicopter tires.”
After overall inspection of the tire, the next step is inspecting the rims, which are checked for corrosion, cracks, or bends. If the rims are damaged badly, the tire is placed into a beyond capable maintenance (BCM) status, which means the steps to complete the repairs are beyond the shop’s capabilities. After the bad tire is scheduled to be sent off ship, supply orders a new replacement rim.
“Whenever you work with a tire you should always be cautious, even tractor tires can be dangerous,” Mitchell said. “You have to be aware of air pressure and lug torque when working with tires. When the tires are filled they are placed in a tire inflation cage for safety; this can be very dangerous. Fully aired tires can be considered ordnance.”
The tires are filled with nitrogen because it helps maintain air pressure longer than regular air. Also tires that are filled with nitrogen handle heat better. Each tire has fusible plugs that deflate the tire at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It is meaningful to me knowing that the tire I fix or replace will serve a purpose in the completion of a mission,” Mitchell said. “Without the tire shop, we couldn’t complete the Navy’s mission. It is an important part of the machine.”