Volume 04, Issue 9
|Integrated Defense Systems|
BY ELAINE BRABANT
At Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, a severely damaged C-17 Globemaster III rests in the sand. Its massive left wing blocks the runway, preventing the landing of other aircraft conducting essential military operations. One thing is for sure: The airplane, the most extensively damaged C-17 to date, has to be moved quickly. But can it be saved?
Fortunately, Boeing and the U.S. Air Force have prepared for this day. Under the C-17 Globemaster Sustainment Partnership program, Boeing is partnered with the Air Force to provide C-17 system support—and in cases like this receives an emergency call. The GSP plays a crucial role in how Boeing supports the C-17 and the Air Force—and is one example of the support and sustainment programs of Integrated Defense Systems' Logistics Support Systems unit.
Following the August mishap, a team of Air Force and Boeing experts quickly assembled to assess the situation. If there was a chance the C-17 would fly again, it needed to be removed carefully. But if the job took too long, a team was prepared to clear the runway by any means possible—risking additional and possibly unrepairable damage.
Using a crane and a flatbed trailer, military personnel at Bagram lifted and towed the aircraft, reopening the runway less than two days after the mishap.
"I was amazed by the job the recovery team did in removing the plane from the runway," said Ken Crumpler, C-17 Field Services manager at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and one of the first Boeing representatives to arrive at Bagram. "When I saw the plane, I knew we would be able to fix it and fly it again."
Crumpler, who worked with two other Boeing Field Service engineers to develop repair plans, wasn't intimidated by what he and others call "the biggest recovery we've had on the C-17."
"If there's one thing I've learned in this industry it's that anything is possible," Crumpler said. "There's no one else who can respond as quickly as Boeing can."
Fifteen days after the mishap, the Air Force officially granted Boeing full authorization to perform the temporary repairs and fly the C-17 back to the United States. Meanwhile, the Boeing recovery effort was well under way.
"This whole time we're staging people, tools and parts at Charleston Air Force Base," said Joe Burgess, director of C-17 Maintenance & Modifications. Boeing staffs Air Force bases around the country to respond rapidly to C-17 needs worldwide.
"We knew we would need to repair this aircraft, and we knew what the job would entail," Burgess said. "Our process is second to none."
Boeing sent 12 members of its C-17 Recovery and Modification Services (RAMS) team, which is tasked with going into the field to recover airplanes. The Air Force augmented that group with five battle-damage-repair specialists from Charleston and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia.
Before arriving, team members had seen pictures of the damaged aircraft, but they were eager to get their first real look at the work ahead. For RAMS teammate Eric Sprague, who has been with the C-17 program for 15 years, the airplane was "painful to see." Like many RAMS teammates, Sprague once worked at the Boeing plant in Long Beach, Calif., where the C-17 is assembled.
"Those production roots are helpful for us," he said. "We know what the C-17 is like, and we know how to build them like new."
The team was well aware of the threats they faced in the hostile environment of Afghanistan.
"We felt some hesitation when we first arrived," said Tom Butler, a RAMS team manager from Long Beach. "But as time goes on you get more comfortable with the surroundings."
The team's biggest challenge was securing parts. "We had the best support in the world," Butler said, acknowledging assistance from Boeing teammates around the country. However, because parts and supplies arrived by military flights, up to a week could pass between the time the team requested and received parts. They quickly learned to improvise.
"We were always coming up with workarounds," Crumpler said. When the team ran out of fasteners, they removed and reused fasteners from a damaged C-17 structure. If they couldn't reuse parts, they would "beg for or borrow parts, find replacements or make do" with what they had, said Crumpler, who credits the people on base for their "tremendous help."
The group worked seven days a week around the clock and declined offers to visit home. "The people on site wanted to get the job done," Burgess said. "They were highly dedicated."
In just two months, the recovery team had completed its mission—and saved this C-17 from an early retirement.
"It would have been amazing to accomplish this in the factory in that time, much less under austere conditions," said Howard "Foot" Ingersoll, director of C-17 Field Services, of the Boeing/Air Force team.
The C-17 departed Bagram in mid-October for its four-legged trip to Long Beach, where Boeing is performing permanent repairs. The aircraft is scheduled for delivery to the Air Force in October.
"This recovery, and others in the past, are a testament to the dedication, professionalism and can-do attitude of the Air Force/Boeing partnership," said Gus Urzua, vice president of C-17 Support Systems. "I am proud of this team's unselfish devotion and outstanding results."
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