Last updated: 8 Jan. 1997
Up until June of 1995, we had all pretty much concentrated the majority of our efforts towards the maintenance and flying aspects of the program. It was now time to start dealing with many logistical and operational issues. These included a Detachment setup, Host-Tenant support agreements, a deployment and mobility program, contingency exercise plans, and much more. Since the 9RW would have ownership of the SR-71s, the responsibility for dealing with these issues was theirs. I'll briefly highlight some of these issues.
Lew Sulslie was specifically hired by LM to be the Det 2 Site Manager. Early on, he primarily focused his efforts on the set-up of hanger 1864 at EAFB. The original goal, was to have this facility ready by October of 1995. This hanger was in fair shape, but needed many repairs and modifications to accommodate our operation. Working with EAFB officials, and primarily Cynthia Hernandez, work went relatively well. The EAFB Wing Commander was a big supporter of the SR-71 program, and he allocated a good portion of the base's budget to assist in our effort. Problems with the roof, and designing secure areas in the building pushed back our move in date to January 1996. As stated earlier, both aircraft were delivered to this facility on January 30th and February 1st of 1996. This hanger is located just off the taxiway they call "contractor row", and is the first AF facility towards the runway from NASA. Itís still a great distance from the runway, as over a two mile taxi was required to reach the east hammerhead. We co-utilized the engine test trim pad with NASA, which was located just across the taxiway from the hanger. Aviall engine shop was moved into the back of our facility, and greatly improved their work space to produce spares. All sensor and avionics shops were in the first floor on one side of the hanger, with LM occupying the other side. On the second floor, above the sensor and avionics folks is the conference room, heritage room, mission planners and AF offices. In the back of the hanger is supply. Behind the hanger are a few more small structures, which are used for storage and Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) maintenance. The facility has an Entry Control Point (ECP), and is guarded by civilian security "rent-a-cops". The aircraft is considered to be a priority C resource today. All launch and recovery operations are performed between the hanger and the taxiway. And most importantly, there is a BBQ every Thursday at lunch time featuring "habu steaks", which are really burgers or hot dogs.
The next step was to setup a comprehensive mobility program that would permit the deployment of aircraft, personnel, parts, and equipment to a designated overseas location for specific theater operations. Teams were assembled, and a few surveys of key overseas locations were performed. These teams primarily consisted of personnel from the 9RW, 12AF and their Det at BAFB, ACC, and LM. Locations and facilities were selected, and some host base support issues were ironed out. The results of these surveys gave us the data needed to begin the planning stage for future deployments. Lew Sulslie was designated as the point of contact for all mobility issues, with the 9RW as the oversight. Lew was very busy coordinating the move to hanger 1864, and had very little time to spend on mobility. The 9RW sent AF personnel down to assist. These personnel had good intentions, but they were fairly new to the logistics game, and lacked experience. ACC saw that problem, and directed 12AF to act on their behalf to rectify the situation. CMSgt Gerry Hagoort of 12AF, a prior SR-71 Maintenance Superintendent, selected TSgt Susan Black to lead the effort. She had been a member of the previously mentioned survey teams, and arrived on the scene around July of 1995. She brought with her a wealth of logistics knowledge to the program. Over the next few months, she provided direction to both LM and the 9RW, and did a superb job getting all facets of the mobility program off to a great start. Her efforts didnít stop there, as she continually performed follow-up visits to ensure all was proceeding as planned. Her professionalism and dedication is the main reason the program is capable of world wide deployment today!
Another big part of the deployment scenario, is the selection of parts, supplies, and equipment that will be required. This package is assembled based on a designated number of aircraft, the assumed operations tempo, the amount of host base support available, re-supply time, and a specified time duration. With this information a listing is generated by calculating the minimum amount of equipment and parts required to sustain the operation. This list was accomplished through the review of previous lists found, the brainstorming of many, and past experiences. LM's Pat Murphy was crucial here, as he had a wealth of knowledge pertaining to past supply usage rates. So, a very comprehensive mobility package was formulated that anticipated every probable scenario. Unfortunately, AF higher-ups found this package too large to support. We were then told what airlift support we could expect during a future deployment. Accordingly, we had to cut a few support capabilities from the package. I won't go into specifics here, but basically our package ended up being designed to fit in just so many cargo aircraft, and not to fully support the complete maintenance functions required on the SR-71. It should be noted here that the SR-71 mobility package has always been larger than most conventional AF aircraft, and with good reason. Most other aircraft in the inventory use a lot of standard equipment that can be found at most bases worldwide. While the SR-71 does use some of this common equipment, the majority was specifically designed for the Blackbird, and is not compatible with any other aircraft in the world. Many people donít understand this, as was very apparent here.
Another part of the deployment package was the preparation of personnel. Since all LM employees were civilian, there were many requirements that had to be met to fulfill overseas operations. They all received many immunizations required for deployment to some overseas countries. Some missed a few days of work after getting sick from three or four shots at a time. They were also given training in chemical warfare, and issued protective suits and masks. Many of them found this training to be a real eye opener, as most had not before encountered these threats. And now, here's the scary part. It is very feasible that a crisis in the world could cause the deployment of the SR-71. Since all the support personnel are civilians, they could refuse to go, and there's nothing that could be done about it. Several have told me: "I'll have to see where it's at before I make that decision", or "They'll have to give me more money if they want me to go". I'm sure in a crisis, more money would be found quickly, but still, there is nothing in place to prevent their refusal.
After plans were finalized, exercising these plans was the next logical step. Together with Lockheed, we drafted aircraft generation time-lines and maintenance and reporting procedures. These were sent to the 9RW and became official. Our first real exercise would be in conjunction with our move to Det 2 in January of 1996. In essence, we would pretend that EAFB was an overseas location, and conduct operations from our mobility package only for a designated period of time. Our cargo would be sent on flat-bed trucks, using the same timelines that were compiled for airlift operations. This was a great plan, and permitted us to see our weak areas prior to attempting the real thing. There were many problem areas we hadn't thought of, mainly in the realm of supplies and equipment. Limitations and overages were noted daily, and mobility package corrections were made. 12AF and 9RW Logistics personnel evaluated the mobility side of the house, and Terry and I evaluated the aircraft generation. Much was learned on both ends, and should not occur in the future. Exercises of this type will be conducted routinely to maintain the unit in a deployable status.
© Christopher W. Bennett
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