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Wed, Aug 10, 2005

Bagram Runway Reopens After C-17 Incident

A C-17 Globemaster III rolled off the runway while landing at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Aug. 6, damaging its nose and right main landing gears.

As a result, the runway was closed, but quick action and creative thinking by Air Force and Army engineers had the runway fully active again in less than 30 hours.

There were no injuries in the incident. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

When it came to rest, one of the C-17’s wings extended over the active runway, so the aircraft had to be moved. However, air operations continued while the C-17 was moved off the active runway. The C-17 measures 174 feet long with a wingspan of 169 feet. It is operated by a crew of three and can carry up to 170,000 lbs of cargo.

Aircraft from here diverted to other airfields and were able to continue combat missions supporting ground forces. Coalition air forces also assisted in ensuring constant airpower was maintained over the battlefield during aircraft recovery operations.

Nevertheless, moving the aircraft proved to be a complicated process, said Col. Donald Jones, 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group commander, who directed the effort.

“It took one big team to brainstorm and come up with the tools and methods we needed,” he said.

The hardest part of the process, he said, was determining a way to lift the nose of the aircraft without further damaging it.

First the fuel and cargo needed to be removed. The team removed 105,000 pounds of fuel and unloaded 55,000 pounds of cargo, with the remaining gross weight of the aircraft estimated at 300,000 pounds. Because of the tilt of the aircraft, the cargo could not be removed by forklift through the cargo door. The cargo pallets had to be broken down into individual boxes, pieces and parts were removed through the crew door.

Next the team had to replace the C-17’s unusable landing gear. Their solution was a flatbed trailer, crane and railroad ties.

The aircraft was lifted with the crane, inches at a time, and wood was placed under the nose to support it. The team backed the flatbed tractor trailer under the nose and removed the wood. Straps were tied to the trailer and passed through the pilot’s windows and open doors to secure the aircraft onto the truck.

The team assembled metal airfield matting provided by Army engineers to roll the aircraft onto the runway. The Army engineers also provided two bulldozers and the flatbed to drag the aircraft back onto the runway to a parking ramp.

“Once again, we had great cooperation between the Air Force and Army here,” said Army Col. Michael Flanagan, 18th Engineer Brigade and Task Force Sword commander. “We worked together as a team to get a job done in one night that many people thought would take four days. This is the best cooperative effort between the Air Force and Army that I have seen in my 26-year career.”

Colonel Jones, knowing the priority was getting the runway open, orchestrated the two bulldozers, the flatbed and a ring of people around the aircraft. They used hand signals and walkie-talkies as they inched the aircraft down the runway through three 90-degree turns to its parking spot.

“We had to get this runway open and get A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs) in the air to provide close air support for Soldiers on the ground,” Colonel Jones said.

“Everyone came together to make suggestions and form a workable plan to help get the C-17 off the active runway and resume normal flying operations in minimal time,” said Brig. Gen. Bruce E. Burda, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “I am extremely proud of the way our Airmen, Soldiers and civilians came together, devised a solution to this unique challenge, and safely made it happen to quickly restore airfield operations.”

The aircraft is assigned to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. [ANN Salutes Capt. Mark D. Gibson, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs]

FMI: www.af.mil

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