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Maintenance crew critical to ABL testing

Released: 28 Feb 2000


by Staff Sgt. Cindy York
Air Force Print News

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- When the maintenance crew at Detachment 2 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., hears they are going temporary duty to do testing for the highly publicized Airborne Laser Program, they know they are going to be busy.

Working on a modified C-135E Argus, the crew has come to accept limited support for their unique aircraft. Det. 2, which is part of the 452nd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif., provides maintenance and flight crews for test flights. Since a test tour typically takes the group to locations without C-135 support, Tech. Sgt. Todd Wells, head crew chief of the Argus, and the other seven maintainers have to be ready for whatever situation pops up.

During one recent mission, the flight crew learned they wouldn't be able to land back at Osan because of fog. The plane diverted to Yokota AB, Japan. Flight plans for the following day's mission were adjusted for a take-off from Yokota, which included flying the seven hour mission and landing at Osan the next morning.

Wells, happily thinking he would have a day off while the aircraft was in Japan, had just fallen into a deep sleep when he got a phone call at 8 a.m. -- he needed to be on a plane in 45 minutes. Since Yokota doesn't have C-135 support, Wells had to fly to Yokota that day to perform a routine, but necessary, aircraft component check to get the plane ready for that evening's mission.

Because of the limited number of personnel available for these world tours and other projects at Kirtland, the maintenance crew members are gaining experience they wouldn't normally get at an operational tanker base.

"It's good experience, mechanically speaking, for the crew chiefs because we are forced to learn more specialist-related duties," Wells said. "For example, when we had an electrical problem the first week, we had to cancel the flight. We didn't bring an electrician with us, so it was up to a crew chief and an avionics specialist to figure out what was wrong."

Wells said even without the different specialists, problems usually don't remain problems for long.

"Fortunately, we have enough experience between us, we are usually able to figure out what the problem is. Everyone in the detachment who deploys with us is tremendous. Everyone really knows their jobs and that's critical for us."

Wells, who has been with Det. 2 for two years and with the test wing for 16 years, said he hopes to stay where he is to see the Airborne Laser Program put into operation.

"I hope I actually get to see it. I worked on the first (C-135) they were going to use and saw it get cut up and moved out. It would be neat to see the end product."

Specialists from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland, along with the crews from Det. 2 and the 452nd at Edwards are doing high-altitude atmospheric turbulence measurements. The results from the testing will help with the employment of the airborne laser, a key player in the nation's theater missile defense strategy.

When fully operational in 2008, the ABL will be the primary weapon used to attack theater ballistic missiles during their boost phase. It will destroy them early in flight before their warheads have an opportunity to separate from the boost vehicle. With this strategy, the warheads and destroyed missile components will fall back on enemy territory, exposing them to whatever warhead they employed.

RELATED SITES

** Airborne Laser System
** Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
** Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
** Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea