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Have you ever been unable to get something when you needed it because the business is backed up or the part is no longer made? Wouldn’t it be great if you could do it yourself? It’s a daily occurrence for Air Force Technical Sgt. Matthew Windmann, metals technician for the 489th Maintenance Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.


Windmann spends his days making parts for the B-1 Lancer at Dyess Air Force Base. Typically, aircraft parts are manufactured by commercial companies contracted by the military. If a part breaks, you can simply order another. Unfortunately, in many cases these parts are out of stock, discontinued, or the company is no longer in business. This is where Windmann and the Metals Technology shop come in.


Windmann made many parts for the B-1 Lancer. His efforts can be found on everything from the plane’s ladder to its fuselage. Many of these parts were essential to keeping the B1 airworthy.


“Each aircraft is unique in its own way,” Windmann said. “Minor adjustments to fitment are required most of the time to fit this specific aircraft.”


Not only was he essential to B-1, but he also made parts for other airframes and equipment. Units all over the United States have contacted him to make parts when they cannot get them elsewhere.


For example, Windmann manufactured parts for his assigned unit, the 307th Bomb Wing, for both the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1 Lancer. However, he also integrated into active duty and other units for projects such as nose landing gear brackets and a limit switch for C-130 Hercules aircraft in active duty at Dyess AFB and damping mounts on HH60G PAVE Hawk helicopters at Patrick AFB, FL.


Overall, Windmann fabricated parts for four airframes spread over five Air Force bases.


However, its contribution to the mission does not stop with the aircraft. Windmann has also received requests for machine parts from organizations such as Outdoor Recreation, the Dyess Fire Department and even the Civil Engineering Squadron, he said.


“Air-to-ground equipment is a big customer for us,” Winddmann said. “We are repairing the equipment they used to fix the plane.”


The entire process, from initial design to final manufacturing of a part, is kept in-house.


“The ability to manufacture these parts eliminates the need for contracts with outside agencies,” Windmann said. “The time saved by removing these contracts saves years at a time, per piece.”


When a shop needs a spare part, they take a drawing with specifications to Windmann to see if they can make it. If possible, Windmann will begin his process.


This process begins with Windmann taking the part specifications and creating a 3D model on the computer in computer-aided design (CAD) software. Once the part is created virtually, he then transfers it to another software called Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). This allows it to create toolpaths for machines to follow. Toolpaths tell the machine what kind of tool to use and how to use it. Once toolpaths are created, he can see a simulation of machine operation to ensure nothing goes wrong during the manufacturing process.


Once he has configured the machining process in the CAM software, the software creates a code which it transfers to the machine. He then physically installs the raw material that will be cut and the tools that will be used to cut into the machine. Windmann will then go through a calibration process that tells the machine exactly where the material is and exactly where the tool is in relation to the material. After configuring the machine, he presses play and waits.


Windmann got his start at Barksdale Air Force Base as a traditional reservist learning the basics of manual machinery, making parts. Once he moved to Dyess, he started learning Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines and became the go-to aviator for making parts.


Some may think that sounds too technical, but Windmann started from scratch, just like the parts it makes.


“I didn’t know anything about metal or metal technology. I actually started this job because of my dad,” Windmann said.


Before joining the Air Force, his father, who is also in the Air Force, introduced Windmann to a friend in metal technology. He said, “If you join, that’s all you’ll do cool,” and he showed her around their shop.


When Windmann transferred to Dyess he became an Air Reserve Technician and after 10 years he still loves his job.


“I really like this job. I will probably stay as long as possible,” Windmann said.