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NATO’s first AWACS aircraft remains in the desert

It’s almost if weather elements, mainly the heat and wind, absorbed all life that once enabled these aircraft to fly. Like mummies, patched with white coating, they are parked in orderly rows on sandy terrain, in a blasting sun. Most liquids have been drained, valuable parts have been removed. Some aircraft are waiting for a second chance to be brought back to life, while others are waiting their turn to be scrapped.

The latter also counts for NATO E-3A aircraft, tail number 449. It landed at 12:53 on June 23, 2015, at its final destination: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

For the next three years, it will sit at Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), where it will be surrounded by preserved aircraft frames, all anchored to the ground with steel cables, the wings supported by wooden stands. AMARG stores more than 4,000 aircraft.

Phase Two of the 449 retirement project continued in Tucson. An ADVON team of ten arrived on June 20, to prep this NATO E-3A, to be towed to the designated parking sport at AMARG. A helpful, friendly AMARG team is available to assist the NATO technician team.

The days started early in the Tucson desert. Extreme temperatures make it necessary to accomplish most outside work in the early morning hours. From a cool 28 degrees Celsius at 05:30, the thermometer rapidly reaches the +40 degrees C by early afternoon.

Lt. Col. Gerald Probst, deployment commander and project officer for the retirement of 449, is impressed due to the professional approach of Mr. Willy Sluijsmans and his Integrated Project team, "Eight days prior to the start of this unique project, a well thought through aircraft preparation plan was completed and the aircraft was ready for departure. NATO 449 landed in Tucson on the minute as scheduled and now, a highly motivated team is working like ants to get the parts removed.”

The locals warn you when stepping outside, "Stay hydrated and watch out for the rattlesnakes and critters”. It’s a rough place for intensive manual labor and special safety precautions apply to prevent dehydration or a heat stroke.

Mr. Sandy McIntosch has been a crew chief of 449 since it first landed at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, Germany, in August of 1983, when he marshaled this aircraft upon arrival. "This aircraft is retiring this year and I’m retiring next year,” tells the former RAF Airframe Fitter.

McIntosch watches closely the meter readings inside the hot cockpit while the last fuel is being pumped into ground fuel containers. Slowly, the last bit of remaining fuel flows out when it is bottom drained. The next step: a complete refueling with 10/10 preservation oil to coat the fuel tanks, the engines, as well as Aircraft Power Unit (APU). The oil meter reads 23,828 gallon when the tanks are completely full. The engines have to run until white smoke is produced, indicating the engines are preserved.

A week of preparations passed and NATO E-3A 449 is ready to be towed into the desert. "This storage spot is named after me, the "Sandy place”, McIntosch adds with a smile.

Mr. Edo Druzitta from Engines/Propulsion Shop, is in Tucson to remove engine number two, the APU and to cannibalize parts from the other three engines. "I’m proud to be part of this team, working on the retirement 449 project”, he says.

Mr. Burghard Nuernberg from Electronics and Environment system is a principal technician and with the Component since 1982. He received his specialized initial AWACS maintenance training at Tinker Air Force Base, in Oklahoma, and tells, "All parts in low numbers need to be removed, but also the expensive parts like, for instance, the forced air fence oxygen converter. Because these "leading edge bleed air duct” items Force Command likes to see removed are very expensive and are hardly available on the market.

While the de- and refueling is being performed, Burkhard, Mr. Gerard van den Eijnden, Mr. Edo Druzitta together with Mr. Thomas Roskam and Mr. Gary Simpson are able to remove and dismantle the refrigerator; remove engine cowlings and cones, life rafts, oxygen bottles and aggregators so these parts can make the first cargo load to be flown back to Geilenkirchen.

"Most of the flight controls, the, landing gear, entry doors, hydraulic components and actuators, plus flap transmissions, stabilizer trim actuator, the cockpit sliding windows are going to be removed”, tells Mr. Gerard van den Eijnden from Fuselage Section. "The biggest challenge is to get most of this equipment to meet the $40 Million amount”, he adds while loosening bolts.

Mr. Jan Steert from Supply Stock Control prepared the list of short supplies, based on consumption and priorities. "There are three priority categories, color coded in red, yellow and green. The highest priority is red. Some 100 crates have been built and flown in. And now, it is being coordinated between maintenance and supply in which order the dismantling, wrapping and palletizing is done until the last part on the list is dismantled,” Jan explains.

After five intensive weeks with a team of 25 persons working on 449 in the desert the work is done, the goal is reached and all milestones are met. Almost 2,000 parts were removed from 449 and flown back to Geilenkirchen.

With the people coming home, 449 was left behind as a potential organ donor to satisfy future Component needs. A lot more work is still to be accomplished. Outsized cargo, still at AMARG, is for NATO Supply Programme Agency to ship back to Main Operating Base and all reclaimed parts are to be physically and administratively processed. This is to insure the parts are in serviceable condition upon return to Supply and all data bases are appropriately updated.

Again, another mission close to being successfully completed by E-3A Component personnel.

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