RAF Mildenhall --
Despite the early hour, it’s hard to stay tired as frosty-morning air stings any exposed skin. The sun hasn’t risen on the flightline at RAF Mildenhall, but the 352nd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainers are already preparing to launch an MC-130 J Commando II assigned to the 67th Special Operations Squadron.
When the temperature is below freezing on the flightline, maintainers must apply attention to detail and diligence in procedure to successfully and safely launch an aircraft.
“To apply power to a plane in freezing conditions, we must use a heater cart in order to warm up the electronics and delicate instruments inside the under-deck as well as the flight station,” explained Airman 1st Class Tyler Uhlry, 352nd SOAMX MC-130J Commando II aerospace maintenance journeyman. “If this procedure is not followed, it could result in damage to the aircraft.”
Another major step in preparing an aircraft for a cold weather launch is the de-icing process.
“We first take into account how much ice is on the aircraft and where it is,” explained Uhlry. “The de-icing truck requires two personnel to operate – one in the driver's seat to maneuver the truck, and the other to operate the bucket. The person in the bucket controls the flow from the nozzle to spray the applicable areas with the de-icing fluid, thus removing the ice from the plane.”
Tech. Sgt. Andrew Fredette, 352nd SOAMX MC-130J Commando II aerospace maintenance craftsman, explained, “proper de-icing of the primary and secondary flight controls ensures that the aircraft’s parts are free-moving during take-off and in flight.”
Freezing temperatures also require flightline personnel to take extra safety procedures while executing their duties.
“Once it’s determined that there is frost on aircraft, we make sure to slow things down and take our time,” said Fredette. “Personnel safety is our priority, so we make sure that there is fall protection, such as a stand set up behind the wings.”
Because of these additional safety risks, extra time must be factored in during a cold weather pre-flight inspection.
“Snow and ice can create situations with higher risk of injury to personnel,” said Uhlry. “This can cause the process to take longer than expected, and ultimately may delay the launch of an aircraft if the planning and preparation is not done accordingly.”
The nature of working on the flight line requires a quality of flexibility and the ability to adapt to all weather conditions. After all, the mission doesn’t stop when the temperature drops.
"We must endure whatever Mother Nature throws at us,” said Uhlry.