News>Where the asphalt ends: Maintainers prep C-17s for unique mission
Story at a Glance
The 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron maintainers prepare and inspect the C-17s for safe use in semi-prepared runway operations. The 8th EAMS is responsible for the distribution of more than 10,000 tons of cargo every month to bases throughout Southwest Asia.
SOUTHWEST ASIA – Staff Sgt. Brandon Ferris, 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron dedicated crew chief, removes the anti-collision light on a C-17 Globemaster III here April 30. The light is removed for semi-prepped runway operations to prevent damage when the aircraft lands in adverse conditions or makeshift landing strips. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)
SOUTHWEST ASIA – Staff Sgt. Brandon Ferris, 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron dedicated crew chief, checks the technical order for removing an anti-collision light on a C-17 Globemaster III here April 30. The light is removed for semi-prepped runway operations to prevent damage when the aircraft lands in adverse conditions or makeshift landing strips. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)
SOUTHWEST ASIA – Tech. Sgt. Ryan Francois, 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron communications and navigation specialist, applies tape to the front of an antenna underneath a C-17 Globemaster III here April 30. The tape protects the antennas under the C-17 from rocks and debris that kick up while landing on an unpaved landing strip. Each antenna costs anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)
by Senior Airman Michael Charles
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
5/1/2012 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The mission never sleeps. Somewhere out there are forces in need of supplies to complete the mission. These service members have journeyed deep into the heart of Afghanistan and are sometimes more than 300 miles away from the nearest established airfield. For them, the ability for the C-17 Globemaster III to land on semi-prepped runways, delivering supplies, parts and munitions is vital.
However, landing on rocks and dirt has a price. Debris from the ground takes its toll on an aircraft and can damage systems on board. To prevent this, the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron maintainers take time to prepare and inspect the C-17s for safe use in semi-prepared runway operations.
"The C-17 has an important mission," said Master Sgt. Seanjon Judkins, 8th EAMS flight line production superintendent. "Our job as maintainers is to enable the aircraft to accomplish its missions in a safe and effective manner."
Normally, heavy aircraft require a much longer, wider and smoother runway for take-offs and landings in order to conduct operations.
The C-17, however, is more versatile. Needing just a small dirt runway, it is able to take supplies deeper into Afghanistan to smaller forward operating bases and deliver to U.S. and coalition forces not close to an established air terminal.
"There aren't always available paved runways," said Judkins. "That's what makes the C-17 special. Not only is it able to deliver a large amount of supplies over a great distance, but it's also able land on dirt surfaces where many aircraft can't."
The 8th EAMS is responsible for the distribution of more than 10,000 tons of cargo every month to bases throughout Southwest Asia. SPRO prepping is crucial in making sure the aircraft is able to continue flying these missions without damage that may halt operations.
In order to "SPRO prep" the C-17, the maintainers go through a set process, lasting about two hours. They begin by using a thick padded tape to cover the six antennas located on the bottom of the aircraft. The tape acts as a buffer between the actual equipment and the rocks that may fly up and hit it.
"The SPRO taping is one of the most important parts of prepping the jet," said Staff Sgt. Justin Tawater, 8th EAMS crew chief. Without it there is a dangerous possibility the aircraft will be flying blind."
The antennas are vital the main line of communication between the air crew and air traffic control on the ground. If one of these $30,000 communication devices are damaged or destroyed, the aircraft will be unable to communicate with the ground and other aircraft.
"We can't afford for the jet to be unable to communicate with its surroundings," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Francois, 8th EAMS communication navigation specialist. "Safety is our chief concern. If the jet isn't safe we can't ask our pilots to fly in it."
The $17,000 glass anti-collision light, located on the bottom of the aircraft, is also removed during the prepping in order to prevent it from being damaged.
"Anytime the plane makes an austere landing on a SPRO surface, the rocks, gravel and dirt are basically flung toward the bottom of the aircraft, said Staff Sgt. Marvin McKinnon, 8th EAMS dedicated crew chief.
Removing the light also serves another purpose: protecting the aircrew upon descent. By removing it, the maintainers are making the C-17 virtually impossible to see from the sky at night, thus protecting it while in hostile environments.
After performing SPRO operations, the maintainers conduct a post-operation inspection on the aircraft, identifying places where the aircraft is most vulnerable by checking places where the tape has been damaged the most. They also conduct a thorough safety inspection, checking for any damage to the aircraft or antennas.
"The job never stops," said Tawater. "Once the jet has completed its mission we are prepping it for the next. That's the life of a maintainer."