Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bagram pulls together for historical aircraft recovery

by Staff Sgt. Jason Lake
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

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Edited caption: Crash recovery and emergency management crews survey C-17A Globemaster III 96-0002 "The Spirit of the Air Force", 437th AW, Charleston AFB, on January 31th, 2009, as it rests on the active runway of Bagram AB, Afghanistan, after landing on January 30th with its landing gear retracted. More than 120 Airmen, Defense Department civilians and contractors successfully removed the crippled aircraft from the runway on February 2nd and restored full airfield operations shortly thereafter. The "belly up," or no landing gear, recovery effort was the first in the airframe's 16-year Air Force history. (U.S. Air Force photo)

2/4/2009 - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- More than 120 Airmen, Defense Department civilians and contractors successfully removed a crippled C-17 Globemaster III from the runway here Feb. 2 and restored full air operations after a historic aircraft recovery operation.

Emergency response crews sprang into action Jan. 30 shortly after the 150-ton aircraft screeched to a halt with none of its landing gear down - a first-time incident in the aircraft's 16-year history.

While none of the crew suffered significant injuries in the incident, the disabled aircraft presented a significant challenge for maintaining air operations.

"A lengthy runway closure is our worst nightmare at Bagram," said Brig. Gen. Mike Holmes, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "The Airmen, sailors, and soldiers on the 455th team work extremely hard every day to make sure coalition forces all over Afghanistan can count us to be there with close air support, airdrop and airlift, personnel recovery, and electronic attack, when and where they need it. We knew we had to find a way to keep doing our job while the runway was closed."

Col. Tim Strasburger, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, led a team of aviators, airfield operators, air traffic control personnel and wing safety to figure out how to safely continue airfield operations.

Crash recovery, emergency management, aircraft engineers and maintainers, some of whom had flown in from other bases within the theater of operations, worked tirelessly to formulate a plan and gather supplies needed to lift the more than aircraft up long enough to extend its landing gear.

"Being a first time incident did not impact our course of action ... this is what we train for," explained Tech. Sgt. Joseph Mixson, lead team chief for crash recovery here. "We put together a group of experts so we could pool our resources and see what was available to work with at the time. Once we knew what assets were available, we set forth an initial recovery plan based on the guidance provided from the disabled aircraft recovery technical order."

Lt. Col. Greg Urtso, on-scene commander during the recovery operation, said the aircraft experts kept their focus on the recovery effort with the help of mission support personnel.

Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group provided security, construction equipment, transportation, communications equipment, and lodging for experts brought in from outside Afghanistan. Medical staff from the 455th Expeditionary Medical Support Group took air samples inside the aircraft to ensure it was safe for personnel.

"The level of cooperation and willingness to do whatever it took was awe inspiring," Colonel Urtso said.

After more than two days of concentrated effort, the recovery crew managed to lift the $200 million aircraft high enough to extend its wheels and prepare it for removal from the runway.

"We used a 120-ton crane assisted by six 26-ton airbags to finally lift the aircraft from the runway," explained Sergeant Mixson. "The major lesson learned was that the technical data for a C-17 recovery did not list any alternate methods. We were not able to place the airbags in the positions they needed to be because the entire fuselage section was laying on the runway. The crane allowed us to [lift the aircraft and] get the airbags into position."

Shortly after the aircraft was removed from the runway, Col. Clifton Blanks, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group commander, applauded the work of everyone involved in the safely executed recovery effort.

"I'm extremely proud of the whole team that raised the C-17," he said. "They did something that hadn't ever been done before. This event serves as another example of the true mettle of the men and women in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. While a group of folks were busy working the recovery of the C-17, much of the rest of the wing figured out a way to safely and effectively continue combat operations with our runway closed."

Source Edited AFNS version on Air Force Link (USAF's public main website)

Note: This post will be further updated!

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