HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. – Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division successfully evacuated approximately 60 aircraft to Fort Benning, Georgia, and hangared the remainder of the fleet here on Sept. 28, 2022.
“Aircraft hangaring is the action of securing aircraft inside a building to protect from any primary or secondary damages that can occur during a storm,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Deffenbaugh, a maintenance test pilot assigned to the brigade’s 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment. “The building is usually a hangar that is designed to store an aircraft anyway.”
Evacuating some aircraft to Fort Benning and hangaring the rest of the fleet allowed the brigade to maintain readiness while keeping Soldiers and equipment safe but able to spring into action for follow-on missions if needed.
“In an aviation brigade, our biggest asset is our ability to move via air in support of the ground force and other efforts,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephanie Tumblin, an aviation safety officer assigned to 4th Bn., 3rd Avn Regt. “When forecasts predict inclement weather, we strive to protect our assets as best we can. To do this safely and efficiently, we conduct training to ensure personnel are capable and efficient at folding blades, maneuvering aircraft with a Standard Aircraft Towing System (SATS), and communicating effectively as a team so as to not damage any aircraft.”
The 3rd CAB Soldiers practice hangaring the fleet multiple times a year. These repetitions gave Soldiers the skills and confidence needed to hangar the fleet after Ian was declared a Category 4 hurricane.
“It is important for the simple fact that it keeps the aircraft safe from the unknown,” Deffenbaugh said. “Foreign objects and debris, known as FOD, could be introduced leading to damage. High winds could break parts of the aircraft, or if it’s strong enough could cause severe damage to the airframe. Other objects that are out of our control could find their way to the aircraft causing damage on the flightline.”
After Ian’s predicted path appeared over the area, aviators quickly got to work, hangaring some aircraft at Hunter Army Airfield and preparing others to be flown out to Fort Benning.
“Aircraft are not always sheltered at Hunter Army Airfield,” Deffenbaugh explained. “There are protocols and decisions made at higher levels that will make the call to either fly out to a safer location or to shelter in place. In the event we can’t fit all the aircraft on the flightline inside a hangar, those remaining aircraft will be flown out to a safe distance or location and can be hangared there.”
Once the decision was made to hangar some of the aircraft here, Soldiers split into teams of seven to 10. Working together to pull each aircraft from the flightline individually into the hangars.
“Here at 4-3 AHB, we use three teams of seven and a tug vehicle to pull the aircraft from the flightline to the hangar," Deffenbaugh said. “When the tug team gets to the hangar, they hand off the aircraft to one of the two movement teams, each consisting of 10 Soldiers. The movement team will hand push the aircraft into location. With the various teams, senior advisors, safety and floor leadership, it takes 50 to 60 troops to make this event happen in a safe and timely manner.”
The remaining aircraft were flown to Fort Benning where they waited for Ian to pass before returning to their home airfield on Oct. 1, 2022. Aircraft that remained here were moved back to the flightline, ready for their next mission.
“The removal process is the same mentality just in reverse order,” Deffenbaugh explained. “If possible, we try to load the last aircraft in as the first out and available for missions. However, the whole process is simply done in the same manner, just backwards.”
Despite hurricane season ending in November for Coastal Georgia, 3rd CAB Soldiers will continue practicing aircraft hangaring throughout the year to maintain mission readiness.
“We find ourselves doing this five times or more a year,” Deffenbaugh said. “This can be a real-world event, or a training event to freshen our thoughts, planning and execution on this task to be ready for hurricane season.”