Deployed CE Airmen create innovative method to speed de-icing process

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Through a collaborative effort, the men and women of the 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron improved aircraft safety by building a de-icing station from spare materials, drastically increasing the speed and reliability of refilling the de-icer trucks at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

A de-icer truck uses a half-and-half mixture of a red fluid and water, sprayed at high pressure, to remove ice from the surface of aircraft during the winter seasons. The removal of ice from the aircraft is instrumental in maintaining flight safety standards and ensuring the aircraft is ready to fly when needed for duty.

During times when aircraft are covered in ice and snow, the de-icer trucks are in continual use. However, to refill the 2,450-gallon trucks, the crew had to manually drain multiple 55-gallon barrels of pure de-icer fluid. For each barrel, they needed to re-prime the hose for suction. Once the truck was half filled, they would have to wait while they coordinated with another agency on base to fill the other half of the truck with water. Finally, to mix the solution, the driver would proceed back to the aircraft while occasionally pumping the brakes.

The process was slow and labor intensive.

The de-icer truck operators voiced their concerns and Capt. Corey Thobe, 455th ECES project engineer, decided to support a change.

Thobe took input from the de-icer truck operators and other ECES personnel and created a baseline schematic of a construct that would serve as a de-icing station until a permanent one could be built on the site.

He then forwarded it to Master Sgt. John Motley, 455th ECES water and fuels supervisor. Motley worked with his technicians to find out what spare materials they had on hand to construct the final product.

The temporary de-icing station featured three 3,850-gallon tanks of pre-mixed de-icer fluid, an extended-length PVC-pipe "hose" for filling the trucks, and transparent hoses marked to indicate how much fluid is left in each 10-foot tank. The station can be refilled while it is still in use.

Todd Mighell, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group transient alert site lead, said the temporary station greatly improved the speed of a de-icer refill.

"It could take up to three hours to fill a truck," he said. "Now, a 2,450 gallon truck can get filled in about 20 minutes.

"Last year, there were missions that had to be scrubbed because the de-icer trucks were not able to keep up with the demand. The trucks kept running out of de-icer fluid and it took too long to refill. We are able to keep up now."

Thobe said in addition to speed, the station is designed to improve the mission's overall safety.

He said the hose used to fill the trucks were designed so Airmen do not have to climb all the way on top of the truck to pour in the fluid. Also, the stop-and-go driving that was used to mix the de-icer solution was no longer necessary due to a pump that cycled, and therefore mixed, the tank's contents. This removed the extra wear and tear on the truck's brakes and frame which was needed during the old mixing process.

Mighell added that the transparent hoses also allowed them to guarantee their service was giving pilots a thoroughly mixed product for de-icing.

"The de-icer fluid is red," he said. "Water is white. If the mix is pink, then we have a good 50/50 mix. We can see if the mix is too red or if it starts going clear. Then we can adjust the solution."

Tech. Sgt. Robert Varney, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, said the temporary station worked great. He appreciated the innovation of the 455th ECES to construct the station to improve the de-icer mission while they wait for the permanent station to be built.

Mighell said, "Even if the permanent station never shows up, this one will definitely do the job!"