Team Dover rallies to safeguard aircraft from tropical storm

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Faith Schaefer

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. – As Tropical Storm Isaias approached the United States, units from the 436th Airlift Wing came together and braced for the storm. Seven C-5M Super Galaxies and seven C-17 Globemaster IIIs were able to evacuate the base and evade the path of the storm in less than 24 hours, protecting approximately $4 billion worth of aircraft.

After weather personnel from the 436th Operations Support Squadron received Tropical Storm Isaias forecasts July 31, 2020, base leadership was alerted to keep an eye on the projected storm. Wind speeds were forecasted to be much lower than what a C-5M or a C-17 airframe could handle, meaning the storm did not cause major concerns initially.

As forecasts worsened three days later on Aug. 3, 2020, a crisis action team was activated since winds from Tropical Storm Isaias reached up to 60 miles an hour and could damage the C-17 and C-5M fleets.

This team is responsible for working with the wing operations group for planning and control of Dover AFB aircraft. At 9 a.m., base leadership made the decision to evacuate the flight line of all aircraft, anticipating what was then categorized as Hurricane Isaias.

Instantly, aircrews from the 3rd Airlift Squadron and the 9th AS were placed on alert in preparation for flights to multiple bases. Two missions scheduled for later in the week were rescheduled to leave that night instead. Scheduled local training missions were redirected to other destinations.

Airmen from the 436th Maintenance Group were briefed on the emergency situation and went into work, even if it meant coming in on their day off.

The next challenges were to make sure all aircraft could evacuate and find bases for the jets to be safely staged. These destinations needed to be out of the path of the storm, have capacity for the jets and possess resources to support them for the foreseeable future.

Two C-17s were able to go to Fort Campbell, Kentucky; four C-17s went to Wheeler-Sack Airfield at Fort Drum, New York; and six C-5M’s went to Kelly Airfield at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

“In order to keep the aircraft safe in good operating condition and safe from hurricane Isaias potentially damaging them, we moved to a C-5 capable base,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Mahoney, 9th AS pilot. “If we were to need any maintenance support, they’re (JBSA-Lackland) used to working C-5M’s here, so it makes it a convenient location to include plenty of ramp space.”

Maintainers were able to perform necessary maintenance on a total of 14 aircraft to make them flyable within a short amount of hours, saving them from the storm. Due to heavy scheduled maintenance, three C-5M’s were forced to stay at Dover; however, they were kept safely in enclosed hangars.

“You see all the jets out on the ramp everyday, and you like to think that you can just go fly as long as you have the crew to do so,” said Maj. Daniel Kudlacz, 436th Operations Group standardization and evaluation chief. “Just like your vehicle, the aircraft have scheduled maintenance. To make all that happen within a short period of time and to get all of the jets off the ground successfully was the unique part of this storm.”

A team of 22 Dover AFB maintainers led by Capt. Scott Webb left on the first C-5M inbound to Kelly Airfield on JBSA-Lackland to assist maintainers from the 433rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

“Their purpose was to fly down on the first jet that went to Kelly and receive all of the other aircraft, bed them down, make sure they were safe and then prepare for redeployment,” said Lt. Col. Jason Purcell, 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander.

Aircraft began taking off for their destinations in the early morning on Aug. 4, 2020, and the final C-17 was able to takeoff from Dover minutes before the lightning struck, which would have inhibited them from leaving.

“All of these entities on base kind of rallied around to make this happen,” said Purcell. “It was an awesome display of people rising to the occasion and working together as a team.”