Snow begins to fall on Fairchild, KC-135
By Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 14, 2016
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Spokane gets an average of 47 inches of snow per year, which provides opportunities for recreation as well as challenges with both ground and air travel. With rapidly dropping wind chills and the arrival of fog, snow and ice, Airmen from the 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron are spending time on the flight line clearing the way for the wing's global reach air refueling mission.
Aircraft deicing is one vital aspect of safely executing the Fairchild mission during the cold and icy winter months.
“Aircraft deicing is required to ensure lifting surfaces, such as the wings, and critical flight controls, like ailerons, flaps and elevators, are clear of ice and snow to deliver an aircraft that is safe for flight,” said Master Sgt. David Steele, 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Green Aircraft Maintenance Unit lead production superintendent. “Ice and snow can cause flight control surfaces to bind in flight, making the aircraft difficult or even impossible to control.”
As little as one-fifth of an inch of ice on a wing can reduce the lift by up to 30 percent and increase the drag on the aircraft by 40 percent, Steele said.
During the winter months, deicing occurs nearly every day. In 2015, Fairchild used 24,810 gallons of deicing fluid at the cost of $250,000 a year on average, depending on the price of deicing fluid.
To save money, manual deicing is used to clear heavy sections of snow before utilizing deicing fluid.
“To manually deice, we throw a rope over the fuselage, slide and snap it over the top of the aircraft to remove snow,” said Senior Airman Johnny Waller, 92nd AMXS assistant flying crew chief. “For the wingtips, we get on top of the wings and manually remove the snow with a shovel. For the aircraft to move and to prevent snow from being inhaled when running engines, we plow and shovel the snow surrounding all four engines and clear a path for the tires.”
Manual deicing requires an incredible amount of manpower. Where a deicer truck can be operated by two personnel, manual deicing requires several more Airmen if the aircraft is expected to be clear of snow in any reasonable amount of time, Steele said.
Long hours are spent in the cold and inclement weather day and night by aircraft maintainers to ensure the process is complete and the aircraft can take off quickly, efficiently and safely.
“The tanker is the backbone of the Air Force,” Waller said. “Without it, the entirety of the Air Force’s fleet would be unable to complete this mission. Being a crew chief means we are the last people to touch the aircraft before it’s sent off to support the Air Force mission. It’s imperative our job is done correctly and efficiently to ensure aircrews can meet the needs of the Department of Defense.”