97 MXS welding team fuses together mobility airpower

man welds metal

Robert Samms, a welder assigned to the 97th Maintenance Squadron, welds two parts of metal together, Jan. 14, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. Besides welding, the fabrication flight assists with repairs to the entire aircraft on the three different airframes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

The 97th Maintenance Squadron’s fabrication flight.

Justin Crosswhite, an aerospace welder assigned to the 97th Maintenance Squadron’s fabrication flight, poses for a photo on October 21, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Crosswhite and his teammate, Robert Samms, are responsible for executing all welding requirements required to keep the training mission flying. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Breanna Klemm)


The aircraft, engines and equipment used to train the next generation of mobility Airmen all have one thing in common: metal.

Over time, and after continuous use, metal parts can wear down or break. Robert Samms and Justin Crosswhite, the two aerospace welders assigned to the 97th Maintenance Squadron’s fabrication flight are responsible for welding all the metal aircraft equipment and parts used at the 97th Air Mobility Wing.

“We are responsible to repair, build and create anything metal that is used on this base,” said Samms. “We mainly work on aerospace ground equipment and various aircraft parts on a daily basis. When we are not working on that, we are creating or building something from scratch that could be used in the future.”

Samms and Crosswhite are responsible for executing all welding requirements necessary to keep the training mission flying. They are qualified to weld any part or equipment used for the C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-46 Pegasus.

Samms explains their team will work on just about anything on the base, except for building or housing repairs, which are covered by the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron. This includes vehicles assigned to the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

“Along with welding all plane parts that malfunction, we are also responsible for welding the entire motor pool for the base,” said Crosswhite. “This means that if any vehicle has a part that requires welding, we will take it in, fit it up, and send it back to work.”

The two-man fabrication team performs a wide variety of tasks using specialized tools and equipment to bend, shape and melt pieces of metal into functional parts. Crosswhite explains how they must keep an innovative mindset in the office to be able to build incoming requests.

“One thing I enjoy about welding is that you can practically build anything you want,” said Crosswhite. “Welding challenges you to come up with different and creative ways to build parts needed to accomplish the mission.”

Samms explains that sometimes all the team receives is a sketched drawing when a job is requested. At that point, the welders must use their creative mindset and unique skill sets to properly build and craft pieces of metal into working equipment.

“To me, welding is an awesome job to have,” said Samms. “You can start out with something as simple as a piece of paper with a drawing on it and end up with a physical, functional structure that you know will be useful for years to come. Every day is a new challenge and every piece of equipment we work on is it’s own experience, and that is something I love about my job.”


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