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Connecticut Air National Guard unit performs crash recovery exercise

Members of the 103rd Maintenance Squadron’s Inspection/Support Element, Master Sgt. Christopher Gagne, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Connoy, Staff Sgt. Paul Delgreco and Staff Sgt. Justin Lorentzen, also form up as the 103rd Maintenance Group’s Crash, Damaged, Disabled Aircraft Recovery (CDDAR) Team. All are members of the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Airlift Wing. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Wayne B. Ferris)

Members of the 103rd Maintenance Squadron’s Inspection/Support Element, Master Sgt. Christopher Gagne, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Connoy, Staff Sgt. Paul Delgreco and Staff Sgt. Justin Lorentzen, also form up as the 103rd Maintenance Group’s Crash, Damaged, Disabled Aircraft Recovery (CDDAR) Team. All are members of the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Airlift Wing. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Wayne B. Ferris)

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, East Granby, Conn. -- Members of the 103rd Maintenance Squadron and the 103rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard, along with members of the 103rd Airlift Wing's Fire Department and Security Forces responded to an aircraft recovery exercise scenario on the flightline at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn., March 31, 2011.

When a quick-response team suddenly gets a distress call, adjustments in the daily maintenance schedule are quickly made and the team rushes to assist. The 103rd Maintenance Group's Crash, Damaged, Disabled Aircraft Recovery (CDDAR) team stands ready to spring into action.

In a normal day, the team goes about their aircraft maintenance jobs until a call assembles the recovery specialists. Called a Crash, Damage, Disabled, Aircraft Recovery, or CDDAR exercise, the team responded to a scenario in which a C-21A aircraft suffered hot brakes while taxiing from an airlift mission, causing the aircraft to come to rest on the main tarmac. Heavy smoke was coming from the aircraft upon parking. The pilots' exited the aircraft, chocked the nose, evacuated the immediate area and awaited emergency response.

The emergency aircraft was on the ground for about 15 minutes after landing and three of the four fuse plugs on the tires were blown out on both right main tires and the inner left side main tire.

"The whole exercise consisted of a simulated aircraft incident that involved several agencies," said Maj. Wayne B. Ferris, commander of the 103rd Maintenance Squadron. "In this case, we simulated that an aircraft suffered hot brakes and subsequently had main tires collapse from the extreme heat. We needed to ensure the aircraft was safe to approach. After the incident commander determined that there was no longer a risk of fire, our CDDAR Team properly responded by stabilizing the aircraft
and downloading it on aircraft jacks," said Ferris.

One major aspect of this exercise was to ensure that all personnel would be familiar with the proper hand-off of the aircraft throughout the process from initial incident through the safety investigation, preservation of evidence and reporting to higher headquarters (HHQ).

"Although the team exercised CDDAR response several times last year, this was the first time the wing exercised CDDAR along with several wing agencies," said Lt. Col. Gerald McDonald, the 103rd Maintenance Group commander. "The purpose of this exercise was to determine the 103rd Airlift Wings' ability to respond to an aircraft incident, provide command and control, generate reports as required, preserve evidence, remove damaged aircraft from the incident area and relocate it to an appropriate secure area for proper accident investigation."

Master Sgt. Christopher Gagne, CDDAR team chief, said he has been working on aircraft recovery scenarios for the past several years. He successfully completed the Basic CDDAR Instruction Course at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz. He said there are two main purposes for the exercise.

"First, is to ensure personnel safety. Maintainers must know how to handle the response equipment and understand the hazards and procedures of responding to CDDAR operations," said Gagne. "Of secondary importance is to prevent follow-on damage to the aircraft. If the aircraft comes to rest on a runway, the goal is also to get that plane off the runway as quickly as possible because you can't keep the runway closed."

Ferris said he wanted to accomplish two goals. "From the maintenance and big picture perspective, one objective was to exercise the communication stream, because our leadership team wanted to ensure that the communication response properly flowed through the necessary wing channels and down to the CDDAR team receiving proper notification. A second objective was for the CDDAR team actually responding, looking at the problem, analyzing it and arriving at a solution--as well as performing the maintenance response safely."

According to McDonald, the CDDAR team fulfilled their goals from properly responding to the scenario exercise inputs and involved several organizations on the base.

"The wing tested multiple wing agencies, such as the Fire Department, because they're the first responders. We wanted to fully exercise the Aircraft Emergency CDDAR Response Air Wing Instruction," said McDonald.

"The unit faced several challenges, but communication and getting everyone on the same page always proves to be the most challenging because of how many different groups are involved. This is the first time in several years the agencies outside of maintenance actually ran a checklist for a CDDAR exercise," said Gagne. "Another challenging task is making sure the CDDAR team has the required equipment and vehicles. A lot of the CDDAR equipment is expensive and it's a challenge to have the right equipment for a bridge mission that's converting to a new airframe," he said.
Jumping into action and quickly recovering aircraft requires special skills and training. Although training is essential, nothing beats experience.

"Fortunately, aircraft accidents are not a common thing, and it's not something you want to see--but you have to prepare for it," said Chief Master Sgt. Francis Macsata, who heads the Equipment Maintenance Flight (EMF). Macsata was confident that they would be able to do it, "but more importantly, now we all know that we can perform it safely and effectively," he said.