Lending a lift: MXS recovers downed aircraft
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- In any situation when an aircraft’s landing gear collapses, causing it to belly or emergency land without gear, a specialized team called the crashed, damaged, disabled aircraft recovery unit or CDDAR, is called to restore the active runway.
“We are an aircraft emergency response team,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Szrejter, the 35th Maintenance Squadron transient alert, wheel and tire and CDDAR section chief, then explaining without his specialized team, the mission would be halted and the runway wouldn’t be able to continue normal operations. “We are also responsible for responding to the worse-case scenarios in rough terrains to recover crashed aircraft.”
Mishaps can occur because of numerous reasons, including pilot error, weather, equipment failure, maintenance malpractice and more. No matter the reason, the CDDAR team stays ready to respond.
To ensure proper protocol and safety measures are taken, the CDDAR unit attends annual training to cover a mock scenario, ensuring personnel can recover the aircraft safely and mitigate secondary damage possibly caused during the recovery process.
“Training will cover general hazards and the proper utilization of equipment,” said Szrejter. “If equipment is not used correctly it can cause additional damage to the aircraft and place personnel in danger.”
During this year’s annual mock scenario, a phase jet fell off of its jacks during an earthquake, causing the landing gear to retract and its doors to be removed.
“A scenario like this is plausible due to how often we encounter earthquakes here in Japan,” said Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Gladney, a 35th MXS dedicated crew chief and transient alert and crash recovery team supervisor. “Because we were in a confined area, we had to use the lifting bags to be able to get the jet on jacks or temporary cribbing.”
Every year CDDAR practices a different lift to stay proficient on recovery tactics enabling the team to properly handle the downed aircraft.
“Fortunately, the U.S. Air Force doesn't have very many major aircraft incidents, but with that being said, we don't get a chance to utilize our training,” said Szrejter. “Training in this line of work is priceless. A crash site has countless hazards and so much chaos going on, you don't have the time to walk your people step by step though a whole process.”
Although crashes and incidents like these are not common, CDDAR is always ready at a moment’s notice to not only save the jet, but to quickly enable the mission to continue.
“If an aircraft crashed on the runway and we didn’t have specialized personnel like our CDDAR team, it could be catastrophic,” said Gladney. “Our job is to mitigate that risk and properly secure the aircraft to save and recover Air Force assets, ultimately to allow the mission to continue.”