Joint exercise tests maintainers’ aircraft recovery skills
By Paul Zadach, 934th Airlift Wing
/ Published September 28, 2016
FORT MCCOY, WISC. -- Most people think of aircraft maintainers as those who diagnose aircraft problems and turn the wrenches to fix them and ‘keep ‘em flying’. That’s true, but there is another select group of maintainers who also have the responsibility and skills to recover aircraft that have been damaged and/or disabled. Those are the maintainers who make up the Crash, Damage and Disabled Aircraft Recovery team.
Every year the CDDAR team’s skills are tested by an exercise and this year’s event added some new realism and challenges. Previously, the exercises had been held on base at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station. New for this year was the move to Volk Field, Wisc. where maintainers from the 934th teamed up with their counterparts from the 133rd Air National Guard to take on three different scenarios Aug. 8-11.
“Working with the 133rd added to the realistic training due to not knowing
their skill set,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Lamia, 934th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “They brought added experience in different specialties, and we got to network with some of our neighboring Air National Guard counterparts.”
This exercise is designed to strengthen the abilities of those individuals assigned to the CDDAR team to recover a crash, damaged or disabled aircraft in a minimum amount of time. Additionally, teams must also consider the requirements of opening runways for operational use, preventing secondary damage to the aircraft, and preserving evidence for mishap or accident investigations.
After arriving at Volk Field, the group of maintainers was split into two teams, each made up of 934th and 133rd Airmen. One team was led by Master Sgt. Conrad Kluck, 934th Maintenance Squadron, and the other by Master Sgt. Devin Duryee from the 133rd Maintenance Squadron.
In the first exercise scenario, a C-130 aircraft slid off the runway and the right main landing gear sunk into the ground. The team had to figure out how to safely debog the aircraft onto an approved surface without further damaging the aircraft. To add to the difficulty, there was another ditch immediately behind the aircraft that the team had to figure out how to navigate around.
In scenario two, an A-6 aircraft had simulated landing gear failure and was on its belly. The team needed to use a general aircraft sling, figure out proper configuration, pick up the aircraft and return it to an approved surface on its landing gear.
In the final scenario, the teams had to use simple aircraft slings to lift and move a Sikorsky MH-53 helicopter from its rotor assembly.
“The training at Volk Field was great because it is more like real life than we can simulate at Minneapolis,” said Lamia. For this exercise, CDDAR instructors from the Wisconsin Air National Guard were utilized. “The instructors let us muster up any scenario we wanted to practice our CDDAR tactics. Working with the 133rd in an unfamiliar place made the training feel more practical and useful for a real world situation,” he added.
“This exercise gave us a chance to practice/train for real world scenarios, on downed
or disabled aircraft, without being under pressure of deadlines,” said Kluck. “We were
allowed to try different ways to recover an aircraft, to find out what works
best in that scenario. This training allowed the CDDAR team members hands on
experience on multi-pole airframes, where we don't have to worry about
damaging the aircraft compared to training on an active aircraft.”
Lamia said the environment presented challenges but at the same time made the exercise realistic. “The most challenging part of the exercise was probably the environment. We were working in a sandy field full of bugs and bees, and it was hot with the sun blasting down on us. The vehicles were getting stuck, and the ground was
giving way to our heavy tugs. But I think we all enjoyed the realistic struggles we got to experience during our training.”
According to Kluck one of the biggest challenges of this exercise was the unknown. “We didn’t know what we would find when we got there, what would happen
if we tried this compared to that. We had to try to figure out the what ifs before
executing the plan. The 934th and 133rd CDDAR team has had many of the same
team members for years and we are getting to know one another pretty well.
Now we are able to let the most inexperienced guys take the lead during
training instead of the old timers.”
The exercise was evaluated by members of the 934th Airlift Wing Inspection Team who reported that overall the exercise was a success. All aircraft were recovered and goals achieved. All Air Force and local procedures were followed and Volk Field proved to be a valuable resource. So much so that next year’s exercise is now being planned for a return to the Wisconsin training site.
“This year going down to Volk Field with the 133rd made for a more realistic
training environment compared to previous exercises and training. The exercise was
limited only by our imagination and skill level. It was a great team and morale builder,” said Kluck.