By Ed Butac, 446th Airlift Wing Public AffairsAugust 16, 2019
On her way to visit family in West Virginia, in late July, Staff Sgt. Clara Mailloux of the 446th Maintenance Squadron, made a pit stop in Pittsburgh to meet up with friend James Thornton. The two had not seen each other since they met at Aviation Structural Mechanic School training in Pensacola, Fla., seven years ago.
While reminiscing through their foibles at the military technical school, Thornton brought up a project that drew Mailloux's interest. Thornton discussed a project called the MIG-21 Project in Los Angeles as well as how this endeavor will ultimately benefit South African women and their families.
The MIG-21 Project is run by a nonprofit organization called DTCare. The organization's mission is to fund and promote civil society, strive to end generational suffering, reduce and end poverty, and pursue the advancement of scientific research and provide jobs and job training for veterans, according to its website.
Mailloux wanted to be part of this project and her plans coincided with a visit to her parents' house near LA.
Mailloux originally intended to help for three days with the project in July, but ended up leading it during her visit. As it turned out, there were many aspects and challenges the team did not know about the aircraft, which Mailloux identified and solved based on her experience working with similar aircraft.
"My past working on the P3 Orion was helpful, as the P3 and MIG are both fixed wing aircraft built around the same time," Mailloux said. "My current career field of metals tech supplied me with skills to assist in this project such as welding knowledge to help brainstorm on the construction of carts and dollies to transport heavy aircraft components and reaming worn attachment points to facilitated the installation of wings."
Mailloux led a team as they reconstructed the aircraft's major aesthetic assemblies such as fuselage, tail and wings.
"It is seriously out of pure luck that we had her help on this," Thornton said. "We will be requesting her guidance throughout this project on how we should go about certain things, such as the disassembly of this aircraft for shipment."
Now that reconstruction is complete, the next step is to take a 3D scan of the entire aircraft. Once it is scanned, the information will then be passed on to DTCare's partners in South Africa where an entire village will be employed. The employees will construct a mesh wire system in the exact dimensions supplied by the 3D scan, then bead it. The mesh wire bead system must be built with transport in mind as it must be broken down into slabs, shipped to LA, then installed onto the aircraft's outer surface.
"The mechanical requirements, logistics and know-how of this aircraft were simply beyond the scope of capabilities and understanding of DTCare," said Wes Lucko, import operator of DT Gruelle Company Group, a partner organization of DTCare. "Having Staff Sergeant Mailloux on-site was invaluable to the team. It sped up the production time of the entire project and saved well over $10,000 in resources. More importantly, it was conducted properly, safely, and the team (was) educated with the assembly process, allowing the team to replicate its assembly any time in the future."
It is estimated that this project will take 18 months until it is ready for its first exhibition.
"Once the project is complete, the end goal will be incredible," Lucko said. "DTCare and its partner organizations will bring even further awareness to the South African nation, its history, and its current state. Jobs will be created for at least 70 South African women. Education costs will be covered for their children, fostering a brighter future for their families."
For her contributions to this project, Mailloux was recognized by DTCare and its partner organizations with a letter of appreciation.
For more information on this project, visit DTCare's website at DTCare.org.