KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- As the smell of worn rubber fills the morning air, Airmen from the 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron know it’s time to get to work.
Kadena’s wheel and tire shop takes old wheels from Aircraft Maintenance Units around base and hands out the newly built tires.
“We provide wheels and tires for the base and all the aircraft,” said Senior Airman Joshua Shears, 18th EMS wheel and tire technician. “As they come in, we break them down, we wash and inspect them to make sure they’re still serviceable.”
The shop is broken down into two teams. The first team is called the build and breakdown team. They break down, wash and re-build the tires that are brought in.
The second team is the run team. They are responsible for bringing new tires to the AMUs and taking the old ones.
First, the run team calls all the AMUs to get an idea of what is needed.
Following a specific route, they drive out to the different AMUs and if there are already built tires in stock, they simply swap with them.
“The crew chiefs bring the tires out and we go to the AMUs to pick them up,” said Shears.
Once back, they begin to breakdown the tires. They let out all of the air, unscrew all of the bolts and take the tire off of the wheel.
Next, they wash the wheels and tires to get all of the dirt and gunk off of them.
This is when everything is inspected. Following their technical orders, they look for cracks and wear that would deem the tire unserviceable.
Unserviceable tires are sent out to be melted down and re-made into brand new ones.
“Once the tires are deemed serviceable, we begin re-building them,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Butler, 18th EMS wheel and tire NCO in charge. “The tires will then sit for 12 hours and are inspected again by Airmen and then me to make sure there are no leaks.”
These newly washed and built tires are either set on a rack to wait for an order to be placed, or will immediately go out to whoever needs them.
However, there is usually a stock of already built tires waiting to go out as soon as they are needed.
“We always try to have tires ready at all times so they can just swap out when they need them,” said Shears.
The Airmen who work in the wheel and tire shop come from many backgrounds as they are selected from different AMUs with different aircraft. While this shop is a crucial element in the hectic world of aircraft maintenance, it’s a change of pace for some who are used to working the flightline.
“It’s a little bit slower, you have a lot more time to do the required maintenance,” said Senior Airman Joel Waller, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire technician. “But it’s a good view into the back shop aspect of how the Air Force works.”