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When The Dust Settles (On Iraq)

USAF Aircraft Grounded By Grit, Poor Visibility

Just about midnight recently, the wind kicked up in Iraq just as suddenly as if someone had turned on a light switch, bringing with it huge clouds of dust that rolled in and obliterated everything from view.

People who were sleeping in their tents were rudely awakened as tent ropes strained and even some beds were buffeted by the turbulence.

"Although weather reports had predicted high winds, even our satellite images didn't reveal the curtain of dust that descended on the airfield," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Sanborn, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 447th Expeditionary Operations Squadron's weather flight.

Sergeant Sanborn, deployed from the 25th Operational Weather Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ, is no stranger to working in a desert environment and said he knew full well the dangers of such high winds and reduced visibility.

"We had 10 aircraft due in that couldn't land and had to turn around," said Col. Daniel Kornacki, 447th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "Three aircraft ended up stuck on the ground as their crews scrambled to cover intakes and protect their engines from the blowing dirt."

As a career C-130 Hercules pilot in the Air Force Reserve, and a Boeing 737-200 pilot for Delta Airlines, Colonel Kornacki knows from experience how unpredictable the weather can be and its effect on flying operations.

Shortly after the wind began, Colonel Kornacki set off, driving up and down the flightline, straining to see through the dust as he searched for aircrew members who might have been caught out in the storm.

People who were working on the flightline ran for cover, and many of those who were off duty and had been sleeping stumbled out of their beds to see what was happening, only to find they could not even see the tent next door.

"Visibility was officially down to one-sixteenth of a mile," Sergeant Sanborn said. "But the dust was pretty thick in some areas."

By first light, the winds had died down, but there was so much dirt in the air the sun was only a faint light in the eastern sky.

A layer of dust, so fine it was like brown flour, covered everything.

"It was everywhere -- you could even taste it in the air," said Colonel Kornacki who is deployed from his position as the 94th Airlift Wing vice commander at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, GA.

Flight crews began cleaning out engine intakes and other critical components of their aircraft. Other Airmen shook the dirt out of their hair and clothes as they set about their normal daily routine, chalking the experience up to "just one of those things that happens when you're deployed."

(ANN saultes Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson, 447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs, USAF)

FMI: www.af.mil

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