ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Many of the AEDC test cells at Arnold Air Force Base have capabilities not found at any other test facilities in the nation.
Therefore, it only makes sense that the skills of those who maintain the facilities and prepare the cells for testing are also unique.
This is especially true of the work that electricians perform day in and day out to make sure the facilities are operational.
“It’s very intriguing work,” said Brian Roper, electrician for the Propulsion Wind Tunnel facilities. “The work we do as electricians at Arnold is unique and unlike what any other electricians do.”
Roper, who has worked for more than 20 years as an electrician, commented that his favorite part of the job is being “on the cutting edge of technology in what we do here.”
Jimmy Newman, also an electrician for PWT, agreed, “There are always advances being made to better determine the temperatures, pressures and overall conditions for the test cells.”
Ken Maxwell, a craft supervisor at PWT, stated that the electricians in the wind tunnels have been especially busy over the past few years.
“They have been doing a lot of the electrical work for the 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel reactivation project,” he said. “They helped in installing the new data systems in each of test carts. This has been a big deal this past year because it took years of development and build up to complete.”
Maxwell mentioned that some electricians do a wide variety of work. Some are qualified to work the overhead cranes, which are used to move parts or test articles into the carts, while others oversee opening and closing the hatch of the test cells.
“A lot of our equipment uses electric motors, such as our test carts, and our electricians are the ones who drive the carts,” he said.
Maxwell added that due to the high voltage of some of the equipment being used, the electricians have to dress out to perform their work.
“When working on a 480-voltage box, they have to wear arc flash clothing,” he said, though not all tasks are hazardous as this. For example, the electricians are also to complete jobs like installing cameras or changing lights.
Gary Cunningham, a supervisor for electricians at the Machine and Fabrication Shop at Arnold AFB, explained that the duties and specialties of electricians depend on the area in which they work.
“Each area requires electricians with different skills to complete the work,” Cunningham said. “Not all electricians are interchangeable and some are better suited for different areas.”
There are plant electricians who assist in ensuring the test cells are ready to produce the required conditions. Plant electricians perform preventative maintenance on Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) equipment, motors, valves and hydraulic skids. They may be trained to operate overhead cranes, operate valves, motors or other equipment to provide a flow path and set test conditions. They can also troubleshoot equipment during test and complete minor conduit installations.
As for test cell electricians at Arnold, duties include performing preventative maintenance on valves, motor and cell alarms. They can be tasked with fabricating and pulling cables for specific test conditions and modifying the test cell for each customer’s needs.
Like the plant electricians, electricians in the test cells also operate cranes, but they do so to install test articles or other equipment needed for the test. They operate consoles during testing and install conduit as needed too.
Power Control electricians perform preventative maintenance on UPS equipment and 125-volt direct current batteries. They maintain motors, unit substations, emergency lights, Motor Control Centers, switchgear, condensate, sewage lift stations and sump pumps. They ensure that fire alarm systems are working, install and repair lighting, and install back feeds for temporary power. They will even perform acceptance testing on motors, breakers and cables and assist in adjusting and maintaining trip settings on switchgears and breakers. These electricians conduct routine maintenance on emergency generators, among other duties.
As someone who supervises the Machine and Fabrication Shop electricians, Cunningham described the types of jobs they are called to complete.
“Electricians at the Machine and Fabrication Shop focus on maintaining welding machines and small tooling, and they install new machines or troubleshoot, repair and retrofit our existing machines,” he said.
Other duties of a Machine and Fabrication Shop electrician include demolition and installation of unit substations, transformers and switches, replacing panels, installing conduit and fabricating racks and supports for cables, conduits and panels. They can upgrade and install new control rooms and associated equipment and wiring in support of test cell operations, and this is only a small portion of the work these electricians can do.
There are currently 132 electricians working at Arnold AFB, and usually two people respond to each request.
“We typically work in pairs for safety reasons,” Cunningham said.
Safety is also a major priority for the electricians. They adhere to the Lockout/Tag out policy, Hold Order Policy, B6 Low Voltage and Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices, which outlines the Arc Flash requirements of each piece of equipment.
Cunningham has worked at Arnold 16 years, starting as an electrician and working his way up to supervisor. He stated that the scope of work for electricians is much different than the work of those who have the same career outside of AEDC.
“There are three kinds of electricians: residential, commercial and industrial,” he said. “The work of an electrician that comes to your home should be licensed and insured and is typically a residential wireman. The electricians at Arnold are required to have either heavy commercial or industrial experience due to the nature of the higher voltages, motors, controls and conduit abilities. The typical residential wireman has some conduit abilities, but not to the extent of a commercial or industrial wireman.”
He added that Arnold electricians offer assistance in completing investment projects for the Complex.
“We do a lot of new construction and refurbishment for all areas,” Cunningham said. “Examples of this include the new slab and rectifiers for a test facility, refresh of programmable logic controllers for the Engine Test Facility, new hydraulic skids at the Propulsion Wind Tunnel and new unit substation and switchgear for a turbine engine test cell.”
He mentioned it would be difficult to complete the large investment projects without assistance from the Machine and Fabrication Shop crews.
“We have several hundred thousand dollars of specialty tools that no other crews have on base,” he said. “We are a premier resource for a highly-skilled electrical workforce to deliver total electrical solutions in an environment where quality, craftsmanship, safety and productivity are the rule.”