Rushing to beat the storm: Maintenance airmen quickly improvise

U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
Courtesy Story

Date: 11.21.2013
Posted: 11.21.2013 05:24
News ID: 117131
Rushing to beat the storm, maintenance airmen quickly improvise

By Maj. David Faggard
USAFCENT Public Affairs

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Air Force officials quickly made the decision Nov. 20 to move, or launch, Department of Defense aircraft from the 2013 Dubai Airshow here due to forecasted high winds and lightning with pending sandstorms and thunderstorms, Nov. 21.

"Moving aircraft is the absolute right call," said Lt. Col. Mark Harris, airshow maintenance boss deployed from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and a Hickoryville, N.C., native. "The risk of not moving the aircraft is too high when there are many unknowns including blowing debris."

The storm will have "one-mile visibility, blowing dust, and 25-40 knot gusts," according to Staff Sgt. Trevor Branch, a weather forecaster with the region's Combined Air and Space Operations Center said. He is deployed from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and a Phoenix, Ariz. native.

Airshow organizers announced the cancellation of the final day of the five day event, today.

Quick thinking by the five maintenance Airmen avoided potential damage to aircraft, according to Master Sgt. John Cantwell, aircraft maintenance functional managers’ superintendent, deployed from U.S. Air Forces Central Command headquarters at Shaw AFB, S.C.

"You cannot move aircraft during these winds or lightning," Cantwell said referring to winds expected to be gusting up to 60 miles per hour. "We can't risk combat aircraft getting struck."

But, the problems weren't only the weather. Maintenance Airmen worked through the night with make-shift supplies, nylon ropes, sand bags and pillow cases, to quickly tie down helicopter blades, according to Cantwell. Airport tow-equipment used to move helicopters failed stranding the aircraft in the open and they had to be secured.

Cantwell, a Kansas City native, went on to say since this was the first time the Dubai World Central airport in Jebel Ali hosted the DAS, some small items weren't present one would expect at a military facility, including mooring points to tie down aircraft.

The region is known for sandstorms and the occasional thunderstorms, but the added potential risk to the aircraft and aircrew from flying debris at the airshow site was the primary reason for the move them to a maintenance facility, according to Col. Robert Nelson, AFCENT deployed forces commander from Shaw AFB, S.C. and a Denton, Texas, native.

The Dubai Airshow is big business, setting new global records for airplane sales -- almost $200 billion the first day alone. Other nations were seen on the flight line preparing their aircraft for the storm. U.S. and DOD service members shared their combat experiences with distinguished visitors from countries all over the world, from the People's Republic of China to the United Kingdom, from Saudi Arabia to Oman and Pakistan.

DAS is the region's premier international trade and airshow according to U.S. Defense officials. American military members are here to demonstrate a commitment to regional security, the flexibility of air power, and to strengthen military-to-military relationships with regional partners, according to Defense officials. Approximately 100 U.S. DOD personnel, are participating in the airshow. Forces were deployed from within the region.

Participating aircraft included an Air Force C-130J deployed from Keesler AFB, Miss. an F-15E deployed from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., and fly overs from an F-22 from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and a B-1 from Dyess AFB, Texas. Marine Corps aircraft included MV-22 Ospreys, an AH-1Z Cobra, and a UH-1Y from VMM -166, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Navy aircraft included a P-8A Poseidon from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron ONE (VX-1), Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, an E-2A from VAW-126 currently deployed with the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and an F-18 Super Hornet deployed with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).