Deployed maintainers return damaged aircraft to combat operations

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


9/25/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — The ability to quickly return battle damaged weapon systems to combat has been a critical and sometimes decisive factor in successful military campaigns. The side that can rapidly reconstitute its forces to an operationally effective state after an engagement has a major advantage.

To initiate and standardize these preparations, the U.S. Air Force developed the Aircraft Battle Damage Repair Program with six month rotations manned by Airmen deployed from the service’s three depots including Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

“ABDR’s primary goal is to restore sufficient structural strength and systems serviceability to permit damaged aircraft to continue combat operations,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Hartley, the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aircraft battle damage repair team chief deployed from Hill AFB. “Our repairs are more of a temporary fix in order to get the aircraft flying again.”

The secondary objective is to perform the necessary maintenance actions to allow extensively damaged aircraft to make a one-time flight to its home station, rear base or major repair facility such as a theater depot or a stateside based air logistics center.

“Our techniques result in significant time savings over peacetime practices without jeopardizing flight safety or mission effectiveness,” Hartley said.

Though their mission does require jets to be damaged, so in the meantime Hartley said they help out their owning unit’s mission here.

“We help support the mission here by back filling the sheet metal shop and crew chiefs,” he said. “But when [stuff] hits the fan, we’ve got to be ready to go.”

And ready to go they were when recently a C-130J Super Hercules landed at a remote forward operating base in Afghanistan.

“It was so damaged that we couldn’t save it and get it flying again,” said Hartley. “So we assisted in the salvage operations.”

Hartley and his team were able to recover 250 components totaling more than $20 million retrieving items ranging from engines and propellers to avionics equipment and other electrical items.

“Those avionics boxes can cost anywhere from $100,000 to more than $1 million,” he said. “So we were able to get it all boxed up and shipped home, effectively saving the Air Force millions of dollars.”

Long days aside, the mission wasn’t easy.

“During our time there, the base sustained a number of indirect fire hits,” said Hartley. “The particular FOB we were at is a high-threat area getting mortar attacks every other day.”

The aircraft still had nearly 3,500 pounds of fuel on board, making it vitally important to maintain situational awareness.

“It was scary,” Hartley said. “We actually dug a fox hole and when the alarms sounded, we’d hit the deck running.”

ABDR is a sticky business, but someone has to respond, repair and get Air Force jets combat ready in the war time environment.

“This ABDR unit is the only major package for the entire U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,” said Hartley. “It’s a huge obligation, but we’re definitely here and eager to help. We repair jets to get them back in the fight. I mean, how cool is that?”

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