ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – Test operations across Arnold Engineering Development Complex are not possible without the proper components for the test facilities.
Those overseeing testing rely on craft personnel within the Complex to provide the consumable parts necessary to accommodate customers and accomplish the mission. Among the craft groups that work to support testing are the machinists in the Arnold Air Force Base Model and Machine Shop.
“It often goes unnoticed, but the Precision Machinists group, day in and day out, churn out components, without a lot of fanfare, that keep many of the facilities here at AEDC up and running,” said Bob Williams, Precision Machine Shop superintendent with National Aerospace Solutions, the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor for AEDC.
The work that these machinists typically perform has continued throughout the Operationally Urgent and the Return to Full Capacity Phase 1 and 2 posture now in place at Arnold AFB.
This Operationally Urgent posture took effect at Arnold, the AEDC headquarters, on April 6, and the RtFC took effect June 1 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, some mission activities are curtailed and access to the base is limited to employees required to complete critical test missions and support functions, referred to as Tier 2 operations.
The machinists are among a number of craftsmen who have remained on base, working to ensure engineers have the resources needed to carry out essential testing.
“The work we have in the Model Shop currently supporting Tier 2 prioritized work is assigned to our Precision Machinist craft,” Williams said.
The majority of the machinists’ current work involves both milling and turning parts in support of the High Temperature Arc Heater Facility for hypersonic testing, the Mid-Pressure Arc Heater Facility, the J-6 Large Rocket Test Facility and the Propulsion Wind Tunnel facilities at Arnold, as well as work to support operations at the AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9, with much of that machine work being very complex and high-risk in nature.
“Under normal circumstances, the shop is making parts for just about every facility at the base, along with bases across the country,” Williams said. “Now, that has been drawn down to Tier 2 work only.”
And the importance of this work is at the forefront for the machinists, as the tasks they are completing and parts they are constructing are not only critical to the AEDC mission but support those responsible for national defense.
“Our national security, that’s pretty top priority,” said NAS machinist Daniel Jones. “A lot of the things that we’re making pertains to that. We’re still trying to press on and achieve a goal, even under these less-than-ideal times that we’re in.”
Fellow NAS machinist Norman Smith shared similar feelings.
“For national security, I think it’s a good thing that people work, keep the test cells going that we do have running,” he said. “All of us that stayed here, we pretty much volunteered to be here.”
There are normally 25 machinists working in the Arnold Model and Machine Shop. When the Operationally Urgent posture took effect, less than 10 were brought in to support critical work. As the workload increased, so did the number of machinists returning to the shop. There are currently more than a dozen machinists working to support essential operations.
Precautions are being taken among the machinists to limit the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Physical distancing of at least 6 feet is being maintained in the shop. Breaks and lunches have been divided up to ensure this distance requirement is maintained in the breakroom.
Although the machinists are attempting to keep their distance from one another, there are times when working in close quarters is unavoidable. The use of cloth masks is required when the desired distancing cannot be achieved.
“The machinists still on base have done a great job making the components required for Operationally Urgent test missions and support functions and remaining safe while doing so,” said Mark Grantham, the Assessment Management Branch lead engineer.
“We have a good group of guys working down here, and everybody has kept a good attitude while trying to be mindful of this coronavirus that’s going around,” Jones said. “It hasn’t been real easy. It’s kind of been a challenge, but I think everybody has adapted real well to it.”
The machinists are also making a concerted effort to remain safe when outside of the shop and off the base.
“Everybody here, they’re watching their space and they’re staying at home and staying away from everybody,” Smith said. “It’s more of a group thing. We know what everybody is doing.”
While they are now used to the adjustments they have had to make, the machinists working through the current posture are looking forward to a return to full capacity.
“You want to see all of your guys come back to work,” Smith said. “We’ve got some, they went out, but we don’t know how long this is going to be for.”