Gun Plumbers: reassembling the old with the new

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mya M. Crosby
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Inside the 355th Equipment and 924th Maintenance Squadrons’ back shop, a group of Airmen are using innovative problem solving to modernize traditional ways of maintaining the Air Force’s ability to fly, fight and win.

The Airmen form an armament team known as the “Gun Plumbers,” that disassembles, inspects and reassembles parts which are critical to the action of close air support vital to saving the lives of ground troops downrange.

“It’s something different every day,” said Senior Airman Cory Molina, 924th Maintenance Squadron armament team member. “If something is not electrically functioning, we start to diagnose the problem, troubleshoot it and put it back together again. Seeing it work is the coolest part of the job.”

A primary focus of the armament team is the A-10C Thunderbolt II’s GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon, a 7-barrel gun that has the capability to shoot 42,000 rounds per minute.

“The A-10 and the GAU-8 is a monster to work on,” said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Sisk, 355th EMS armament section supervisor. “It’s older than any other aircraft I’ve worked on.”

The team can receive a “hot gun,” which is a malfunctioning GAU-8. Personnel who come into contact with the jammed gun must be specially trained to avoid casualties which could result from mishandling the cannon.

“You become hot gun certified by just responding and figuring out how to work around enough of them and solving enough malfunctions,” said Tech. Sgt. David Kucharik, 924th MXS armament team member. “I’m trying to train the rest of the (team) so they will be able to respond safely and effectively to resolve the gun jams and malfunctions pilots experience.”

The life cycle of the gun system is 250,000 rounds which can last up to approximately 10 to 15 years. Other equipment the Gun Plumbers safely maintain and fix age many years more than the system itself.

“The oldest (equipment) in this shop are our ammunition loading assemblies,” Kucharik said. “The ALAs transfer ammunition from the ammunition containers to the aircraft and I know for a fact that some of the ALAs are from the Vietnam era. They’re still olive drab green and they still have 1967 manufacturer inner tubes.”

Every day provides the armament team with a new challenge in order to keep the mission moving forward.

“We have to use modern technology to cost-effectively rebuild these guns and try to make things better,” Kucharik said. “It’s really hard to keep these systems going because they are old -- we don’t have parts readily available. We call anyone we can – other bases and the Boneyard.”