FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
A KC-135 Stratotanker descends below the clouds and into the falling snow as it approaches Fairchild Air Force Base. The pilots are calm as they make preparations to land, knowing that the flightline conditions are clear as can be due to the ground crew’s attentiveness.
The 92nd Civil Engineering Squadron heavy equipment operators are the Airmen who drive plows and broom sweepers to keep the flightline and the base operating safely in snowy conditions.
Fairchild is the world’s largest tanker wing, with over 50 KC-135s operating around-the-clock to support rapid global mobility in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, making it vital to have an operational airfield during the winter season.
“KC-135s, like any aircraft, cannot operate in snowy or icy conditions,” said Staff Sgt. Vanessa Leary, 92nd Operations Support Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of airfield management training. “In order to meet the wing’s mission of providing immediate responsive air refueling, the airfield management team works 24/7 to maintain a safe operating environment for the KC-135.”
In addition to clearing the flightline, the 92nd CES also combats annual snowfall for the whole base, all coordinated by one person, conveniently nicknamed “Snowman.” In 2019, the team removed a whopping 47 inches of snow.
“The Snow Barn works 24-hour shifts alongside airfield management during the winter to fulfill mission requirements,” said Master Sgt. Justin Baker, 92nd CES section chief of horizontal construction. “We also increase our manning with augmentees and civilians to meet mission needs.”
The Snow Barn houses over 40 snow removal equipment items to keep the massive two and a half mile-long flightline clear, all coordinated by one person, conveniently nicknamed “Snowman.”
“Every single piece of equipment has a radio in it for our personnel to communicate not only with ‘Snowman’ and base operations, but with each other to keep things running smoothly,” Baker said. “My crew works cohesively as a unit to ensure that everything is done right on our end.”
The 92nd CES clears the airfield of snow during the winter season providing team Fairchild and our allies the consistent capability for global deterrence, enabling the KC-135 air refueling mission.