Airfield and Aircraft Familiarization


Airfield and Aircraft Familiarization

Airfield and aircraft familiarization are two critical factors that must be understood by rescue/response personnel.  Judging by successful attempts to contain and minimize losses, it is readily apparent that crash fire crew knowledge of airfield and aircraft design are interracial parts of perpetual training.  Being part of an initial response can be an awe-inspiring experience; the initial shock of the situation will hamper normal response behavior.  With continued education and unconditional situational awareness, we can program our response posture to enable us to approach the scene without delay and armed with a plan.


Many aircraft maintainers’ experience differing aircraft and airfields daily; situational awareness coupled with learned behaviors allows us to tackle this challenge head-on.  As an aerospace ground equipment mechanic, I feel my actions of querying aircraft personnel helps me in understanding basic blueprints for aircraft function and design.  Airfields, on the other hand, are almost of cookie-cutter design; I spend more time trying to understand traffic flow patterns than any other facet of an airfield/flight line.  A more specific explanation will now follow.

Airfields consist of runways, taxiways, marshaling areas, parking spots, terminals, maintenance hangers, and structures.  Of those items, most if not all service ground vehicle and aerospace vehicle traffic flow on a daily basis.  By understanding specific traffic flow patterns, we can almost anticipate suitable response and exiting routes to and from the incident/accident scene.  Differing airfields host general aviation, military aviation as well as commercial aviation platforms.

During any response scenario, you will be concerned with common airfield parking patterns, any hazardous or explosives materials and also oxygen-rich environments.  Any potential hazard that is defined as a routine should be embedded in your defensive posture.  Perpetual training efforts enable response personnel to factor in noteworthy conditions that will enable efficient response time as well as isolate the scene to contain and abate the threat.  Understanding the factors affecting offense strategies is the next item I will cover.

Airfields, in general, are not rocket science; as stated earlier, situational awareness on the part of the response team should minimize deviations in proven response procedures.  As a response tactician, I would be obligated to continually factor in the little things to my immediate response procedures.  Some of what I call the little things are truly noteworthy to my team of response personnel.  Obstructions due to a construction project can be a huge hindrance to a fast response.  Every team has a vested interest in understanding detours and choreograph response procedures to limit their impact on the response effort.

Particularly wet weather can create standing water, standing water will normally create soft vehicle operating surfaces, this is a real problem for forty-ton fire trucks.  I would try and target high points in elevation as starting points for penetrating a specific area.  In some cases, it may be more practical to have airfield management to install a French drain system.  Our next item to identify is the impact of snow and ice.

Snow creates a whole new airfield while clearing the snow will enable airfield travel, it can have a negative effect on emergency response procedures.  As snow is plowed or blown it creates huge embankments that are insurmountable to the best truck that OSH KOSH has to offer.  Communication is key in this area.  Tacticians should consult and advise airfield management on snow abatement locations and procedures; this action will ensure suitable response routes are not blocked by twenty-foot snow embankments.  If you ever watch news reports from the eastern seaboard, you will see that snow removal is no small task and if done correctly will solidify the effectiveness of your response plan.

Ice can be the means to an end, routine checks by your department of paved surfaces should be completed during potential ice generation periods.  Nothing is worse than a crashing a critical response vehicle during the response.  It may be necessary to add traction control features to the vehicle tires during ice storms.  As you can see, knowing the airfield and the impact of operating conditions can improve the response.  I will now move to the second interest item aircraft familiarization.

Airfields are buzzing with many sizes, types, and quantities of aircraft.  My intentions as earlier stated are to identify what I feel are critical factors that are too often overlooked.  Military aviation is my forte so I will place a strong emphasis on that subject.  As a general rule, know aircraft composition.  Whether its depleted uranium in the wingtips of large transports or composites of an F-18 hornet we need to study aircraft composition.  Many of today’s aircraft seem harmless when launched from a pitching deck or parked on a ramp; nothing could be farther from the truth.

While the aircraft is not harmful to the touch a small change in condition could create an overwhelming catastrophe.  Case in point, while assigned to the SR-71 program at Beale AFB, I worked in close proximity with a chemical called Tetra-Ethyl Borane (“TEB”) it burns an extremely low vapor pressure fuel called JP-7, which was formulated especially for the SR-71. You can put a cigarette out in a dish of JP-7.

The fuel is designed to be hard to light because the airframe skin in the vicinity of the fuel tank is 500 – 600 degrees F at cruise speeds of  Mach 3+.  Even worse, the fuel is actually used as the hydraulic fluid in the engine actuators!  The idea is, a steady supply of “cool” fluid arrives from the fuel tanks and gets used in hydraulic devices around the engine.  Hydraulic fluid in a closed system would soon get as hot as the parts through which it ran, but this special fluid gets used as fuel before it gets too hot!  The engine system on the aircraft is a Pratt & Whitney J-58 because the JP-7 has such a high flashpoint the system had to have a pre-ignition system to aid in lighting the fuel.

That’s where the TEB comes in, TEB is sprayed into the engine on rotation to help light the JP-7.  The TEB has a super low flash point, less than freezing, so as soon as it hits oxygen it ignites.  As you can see approaching this aircraft and attempting to secure the scene would be b!ad for unfamiliar rescue personnel.  One wrong move extracting the crew or securing the aircraft could lead to fatalities.


The scenario stated is avoidable if the aircraft crew briefed rescue personnel prior to the aircraft landing.  Due to secrecy at the time of its service life, the SR-71 and it’s TEB were not common knowledge to emergency response personnel off station.  Notably, by exposure to the system operating principles and having the SECRET security clearance, I was able to steer clear and avoid contact with the volatile chemical called TEB.

Based on the idea’s expressed, I hope to create awareness of aircraft and airfield familiarization. When lives are dependent on your ability to respond there is no such thing as time-out.  Rescue and response personnel have very low visibility jobs under regular operating conditions; however, when situations warrant there immediate response they are scrutinized on how well they perform their duties.  You as a responsible person need to be familiar with as many elements and conditions as possible to ensure effective decision making during adrenaline rushed response, remember lives are at stake!

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