Tankers, Recon Planes Grounded Over Faulty Tail Pins


More than 200 of the Air Force’s most expensive and important aircraft were briefly grounded in February after it was discovered that the pins that hold the vertical stabilizer to the fuselages of most Air Force variants of the Boeing 707 were substandard. The five-inch pins are potentially a single point of failure since one of them bears 90 percent of the stress of keeping the tail on. KC-135 tankers along with highly specialized RC-135 and WC-135 surveillance planes were affected. The E-3 Sentry AWACS and E-8 JSTAR aircraft were not affected.

According to a Facebook post on an unofficial group for Air Force maintenance personnel, the pins are replaced every time the planes go for heavy maintenance. Between June of 2020 and December of 2022 pins made by a specific supplier were determined to have been made of the wrong material, were too small, weren’t plated properly and hadn’t been shot peened, which is necessary to strengthen them. There have been no mishaps so far and the inspection only takes 30 minutes. So far, about 25 faulty pins have been found.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Maybe the same people who assemble Continental crankshafts were making the pins. Sounds like another AD is in order.

      • Why do you think that Boeing had anything to do with either the manufacture or certification of the bogus bolts? Boeing design documents would have details on the required specifications of the bolts, but I doubt Boeing would have any oversight of the after-market design of the 707 hardware.

      • Boeing had ZERO to do with these third party parts. The US Air Force contracted these parts and it was THEIR QA system which failed miserable.

  2. So the question is, how did this contractor get the job of supplying these parts when they didn’t meet ANY of the specifications of the bolts?………..Oh yeah, they got the contract with kickbacks, payoffs and greed. There is no other explanation for the sub standard parts.

  3. It would be interesting to know if the 25 faulty pins were found installed on the airplanes or found in the parts bins, or both. If the faulty pins were going into stock, I can understand a two-year timeframe of faulty manufacture before discovery. But why weren’t faulty parts caught in the mfr’s inspection process?

  4. The current inspection philosophy in the industry is that the supplier self certify the incoming material or item as having met all requirement. this allows the contractor under this arrangement to forgo incoming inspection. The contractor may have qualified to the requisite specifications and have supplied compliant pars for a very long time.How this happened will have to be determined through a site records inspection. Assumption of illicit activities if not really fair at this point. it could be as usually is in these cases step were missed because work flow was not followed.

    • Then the “self-certifying” manufacturer should bear all the costs. But I guess why, when us dopy tax payers are can be compelled to pay for it.

  5. One of many problems we have in spite of all the certifications of people and plants and processes.

    The people responsible will likely be working in the same industry at the same level of responsibility even if the corporation itself gets bankrupted by their failure. Just like all the execs at other bail outs and bankruptcies.

  6. Stalin may have been right, executing the CEOs that take advantage of the military procurement process.