CDDAR team uses skillset to recover aircraft

CDDAR team

(U.S. Air Force Graphic by Senior Airman Kristan Campbell)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

The fire’s out, now what?

In order to safely mobilize crashed or damaged airframes, the Crashed Damaged or Disabled Aircraft Recovery team at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, must maintain the training and knowledge needed to be recovery experts.

It’s up to the crew chiefs within the unit to coordinate a successful retrieval both quickly and efficiently, while preventing further damage.

“Our job is based off of theories and training,” said Tech. Sgt. Russell Dugan, 39th CDDAR section chief. “You can prepare as much as you want, but it’s all based on theories and on what the best, most safe way going forward would be.”

The CDDAR team has brought this knowledge and expertise to the scene on three separate occasions this year when they recovered three MQ-1 Predators. Two of these incidents happened within four days of each other, giving the team the opportunity to showcase their skills.

“From cradle to grave, CDDAR recovered those aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lenzen, 39th Maintenance Squadron superintendent. “The team acted as the true professionals they are. The entire team was just returning to normal shifts and assessing what we expended on the first recovery when we were notified about the second crash.”

Working with the less-is-more mindset is something the CDDAR team knows well. Upon arriving on the scene of the first incident, it took them 72 hours to retrieve the crashed MQ-1 Predator.

“The first incident was more difficult because of the late night notification, the sweltering Adana summer weather, the extremely hazardous composite material, and the indistinguishable nature of the wreckage,” Lenzen said.

Upon arrival at the incident scene, one of CDDAR’s first responsibilities is to deem the area safe by spraying down the aircraft parts with a water and wax mixture. Removing harmful particles from the air makes it safe for fire fighters, medical personnel, the on-scene commander and other responders to begin working.

“A lot of the planes, especially new ones, have carbon fiber components on the aircraft and that can be hazardous to breathe in,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Elliot, 39th Maintenance Squadron CDDAR shift lead. “We wear protective suits similar to a hazmat suit, respirators, gloves and boots to keep from inhaling it.”

The team barely had time to celebrate their success, however, before recovery services were needed for a second MQ-1 crash.

“The second recovery was mostly at night, there were less composite hazards, and the wreckage was easier to pick up,” said Lenzen.  “The initial response team was instrumental to the quick recovery, too; by the time the main team arrived, most of the major components were already cataloged and wrapped for transport.”

CDDAR also aided investigators by pointing out major components, peculiarities of the wreckages, and assisting in taking fluid samples.

“Throughout the staging operations and actual recovery, the team did not complain [as they] methodically worked, applied lessons learned, and generally acted like they had been there before--because they had,” Lenzen said.

Elliot recalled the final scenario in which an MQ-1 Predator sustained damage during a hard landing and caused the runway to shut down. He added that with the help of seasoned crew chiefs within CDDAR, the MQ-1 was lifted off the runway using a crane

Flying operations resumed within an hour and 14 minutes of the runway’s closure.

“We are the focal point for downed aircraft on the base,” Dugan said. “We have taken care of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marines, and all NATO partners that fly in and out on many occasions.”

No matter the aircraft emergency, Incirlik’s CDDAR team stays ready, 24/7/365 to fill the 39th Air Base Wing’s recovery needs anytime, anywhere.