Specialized vehicle maintenance supports global operations

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force partners daily with joint and coalition teams to win today's fight and protect U.S. and Allied interests across the globe.

The 52nd Fighter Wing here does its part by supplying the European and combatant commanders with trained and proficient Airmen, and precise combat power comprised of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter aircraft.

Behind those capabilities works the maintainers who keep the support equipment operational.

The 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron Material Handling Equipment and Fire Truck Maintenance Shop provides specialized repair to the base's priority support vehicles: material handling equipment, fire trucks and deicers.

"We have all three priority vehicles, and that's what makes us so diverse," said Tech. Sgt. Eric Ford, 52nd LRS the shop's NCO in charge. "The reason our shop does maintenance on all of these specialty vehicles is because of the unique pumping or hydraulic systems."

Ford said the shop boasts 12 Airmen with varying degrees of specialty experience. In their technical training, Airmen choose a specialization, like fire-truck repair. Once they arrive at a duty station, their on-the-job training with other specialty vehicles commences.

"I love being able to train the new Airmen coming in," Ford said. "When they come here, they just know the bare basics, and when they leave, they're mechanics."

Fire-truck Maintenance

Each Spangdahlem fire truck serves a different purpose and carries varying amounts of water. The base fire department requires a specific amount of available water -- proportionate to the number and size of grounded aircraft -- to prepare for any aircraft accident or fire.

"Without our vehicles working properly, we cannot complete our mission," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Gunter, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department Fire Logistics NCO in charge. "We protect the people and assets of the 52nd Fighter Wing. So, the maintenance shop's work is vitally important."

Aircraft destined for Spangdahlem may be diverted to another base if the fire department doesn't have access to the required water amount due to a vehicle malfunction.

"If the water inside the fire trucks freezes, it can burst the pipes," Ford said of the difficulties of vehicle storage during Germany's winter weather. "With the weather being so cold here, the fire department has to store their vehicles inside to prevent this kind of damage."

Ford said his Airmen are continuously learning new techniques in fire-truck repair because the vehicles don't always break for the same reason every time.

"If we don't show up mentally or physically prepared to work on these fire trucks, we couldn't repair them as fast as we do," Ford said. "Then, the fire department doesn't have enough water for airfield operations.

"It all comes back to the mission," he continued.

Material Handling Equipment Maintenance

The 726th Air Mobility Squadron is a tenant unit here that administratively belongs to Air Mobility Command. One of the command's priorities is to provide rapid, global mobility and sustainment for U.S. service members. They do this by supplying Defense Department forces aerial refueling and airlift. Airmen from the 726th AMS reinforce this capability with deployment and cargo support to the 52nd Fighter Wing, and loading cargo into aircraft requires the use of specialized transport vehicles.

A Tunner 60K aircraft cargo loader and transporter is one of Spangdahlem's material-handling equipment. The loader is more than 49 feet long, its loading deck height can adjust from 39 inches to nearly 19 feet and its maximum payload is about 60,000 pounds.

Ford said the 60K loaders have many moving parts due to their unique function. There are fluid lines connecting all the parts to the hydraulic system, the automated conveyor system can move pallets along the deck and the deck itself has pitch roll and side-to-side adjustments.

Maintaining all of those working parts is essential for healthy operation of the equipment, he said.

"Maintenance is key to what we do," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Weppel, 726th Air Mobility Squadron aircraft services NCO in charge. "Without our working equipment, we couldn't load our cargo or support the wing's overall mission."

Deicer Maintenance

Fighter and cargo aircraft may not operate correctly during freezing conditions. Pieces of ice may detach from the exterior and be sucked into the engine's intake, causing an accident or catastrophic failure.

"If the maintainers didn't fix our deicers, the aircraft couldn't fly covered with snow and ice," said Tech. Sgt. Alfred Sautner, 726th AMS vehicle control officer. "It's a question of operational hazards. If a pilot thinks it's too dangerous to fly as is, he can request the help of a de-icer."

The deicing vehicles contain a movable-boom pumping system that spouts a boiling deicing mixture onto aircraft. The vehicle operators position the vehicle at different angles around aircraft, spraying from wing to wing.

Ford said the vehicle has multiple facets of maintenance -- an engine to move the vehicle, another engine to move the boom and pumping system, and a heating unit. The maintenance Airmen have learned to repair the electrical heating system along with general maintenance on the vehicle.

Germany's winter weather increases the risk of unscheduled maintenance, Ford said. The Airmen engineers maintain the deicing vehicles during the summer and continue sustaining their capability in the winter to allow aircraft flight.

The Result

Spangdahlem's aircraft disaster preparedness, deployment support operations and combat-ready aircraft fleet is a partnership among many base units and teams. The fighter wing is able to directly support U.S. and Allied interests worldwide while providing a fighting capability to wartime operations with the help of this specialized maintenance shop.