Barrier technicians ensure mission safety

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Eric Badger
  • 3rd Wing Public Affairs
Their hard work and dedication is revealed in times of crisis, and throughout each flight mission, they are there.

Mobile Aircraft Arresting System barrier technicians from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, are here for Cope India 04, the first bilateral dissimilar air combat exercise between the U.S. and Indian air forces in more than 40 years. These technicians ensure U.S. aircraft that develop an in-flight emergency can land safely.

The arresting system weighs about 18,000 pounds and is connected to a 153-foot-long steel cable that stretches across the runway. During an in-flight emergency, the pilot of the endangered aircraft lowers an aircraft tailhook designed to catch the cable.

“Any time an aircraft can’t stop itself safely, we’re involved,” said Master Sgt. Sonny Gomez, an electrical power production technician responsible for arresting system maintenance. “From hydraulic and system failures, not enough fuel to land or no brakes, we ensure the pilot and the aircraft get back to us in good shape.”

The cable runs through two long metal boxes on each side of the runway that allow heavier aircraft to land and provide the capability for aircraft to land from either direction.

Without these metal boxes, the MAAS can support a maximum of 40,000 pounds and 180 knots of pressure, said Airman 1st Class Kevin Baker, an electrical power production technician. With the boxes, it can withstand 50,000 pounds and 180 knots of pressure up to 1,200 feet.

The MAAS is secured into the ground by metal stakes about 5-feet long that weigh 25 pounds each. The entire system takes about 24 hours to set up.

"We drill 156 individual stakes into the ground to secure the MAAS," said Staff Sgt. Robert Roe, an engineering assistant. "It takes two to five minutes to drill each stake."

About 60 seconds before every takeoff, the team quickly stretches the cable across the runway and ensures the MAAS machine is prepared for a possible engagement.

Since the Indian air force aircraft involved in Cope India do not have tail hooks, they use a different system involving a huge nylon net that engulfs the nose and wings of an aircraft. During the exercise, the Elmendorf MAAS technicians put the system in place when the F-15C Eagles participating in the exercise are taking off and landing. Afterward, they remove the cable so the Indian aircraft can launch or recover.

“(The U.S.) barrier system is in some ways similar to ours, simple in construction and easy to dismantle,” said Junior Warrant Officer D.P. Singh, warrant officer in charge of the airfield lighting section here. “This exercise has proven itself to be highly beneficial for both forces to learn from each other.”

Working with the Indian air force to successfully complete training missions is one of the most rewarding aspects of the deployment, said Tech. Sgt. John Freischmidt, an electrical power production technician. But for Sergeant Freischmidt, it is the job that really matters.

"The favorite part of our job is doing the work to get everything installed and in place, knowing that if needed to save a pilot and aircraft, it’s ready." he said.