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Aircraft shelters innovate to become more enduring

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natalie Filzen
  • 386 AEW Public Affairs

Before the invention of automobiles, carriage houses would protect horse-drawn carriages from the elements. It was not until the early 1900s that the first garage was built, and the blueprint has continued to improve with automatic doors and other features over the decades. In a deployed location burdened with dust storms, severe heat and other weather-related hardships, mission essential aircraft are likewise protected in shelters that are constantly evolving.

Capt. Ryley Paquette, engineering flight commander, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, detailed the innovations of the three small aircraft weather shelters that were recently opened after the ribbon cutting ceremony on May 29, 2022.

“This shelter is unique in that it uses evaporative cooling,” said Paquette. “It's a very low humidity environment out here, so instead of it being cooled using a refrigeration cycle, which is rather power intensive, evaporative cooling sprays mist into the interior duct system and maintains the same total air temperature here as it would be with a regular cooling system.”

In addition to efficient cooling systems, each of the weather shelters varied slightly in the types of doors installed. This was done in order to determine which door would be the best fit in the long term, as well as which would be the most easily maintained in order to streamline the operations tempo.

“Traditional telescopic hangar doors enable the building to be shorter relative to its overall footprint,” said Paquette. “But the other [hangars] use a tension fabric door, which has much lower maintenance and enables a higher total clearance area for different types of aircraft.”

Senior Airman Cameron Ballard oversaw the project as the construction manager, a job typically reserved for sergeants, ensuring that construction was completed according to specifications and that deadlines were met.

“I made sure that there were no discrepancies in the structure and integrity of the building, which was constructed for durability and longevity,” said Ballard.

The aircraft were previously stationed in tension fabric shelters that were subject to degradation, especially when considering wear and tear from the sun, sand and wind. Typically, they are reskinned every six months to a year, equating to approximately $150,000 to $200,000 a year in maintenance towards the end of their lifespan.

“Building these facilities will pay back their costs in two years or so,” said Paquette. “So this is going to be cost effective. A lot of facilities in this space were [previously] built using American design standards, American equipment, American parts, which means that anytime you change something or pull stuff in the States, that's not sustainable in the long term for military force. We're trying to work with local ideas and concepts to find a happy marriage of American design expectations with local capabilities and materials.”

The goal is for these innovative, permanent facilities to be less maintenance intensive and more cost effective long term, while also collaborating with the local populace to find the perfect fit for the local climate.

Garages and shelters have come a long way since their inception in the early 1900s. As they continue to develop in complexity, the U.S. Air Force is right in step to become more agile and adaptable to the modern day global security environment.