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Bathing the BUFF

By Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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Like any other night, maintenance Airmen head into work for their swing shift, but instead of their Airman Battle Uniforms, the Airmen filter through the hangar in shorts, t-shirts and boots.

This non-traditional work attire is needed so maintenance Airmen can don their proper protective equipment easily and comfortably. These Airmen have a long, hot night ahead of them washing the 160-foot long, 40-foot high B-52H Stratofortress with its 185-foot wingspan.

"One of the most difficult things about the job is that the B-52 is such a large airframe," said Senior Airman, Robert Hayes 2nd Maintenance Squadron avionics specialist. "Typically, a phase aircraft wash takes about 12 hours but there have been times where we had to come in for a second shift to finish washing the aircraft."

The B-52s are brought into the hangar after 450 flying hours to be washed but it isn't just for cosmetic purposes. Washing the aircraft helps prevent corrosion and makes it easier for Airmen to inspect the aircraft.

"Washing the plane allows us to do a thorough inspection of each rivet, bolt, joint and component of the aircraft to make sure there aren't any defects or faults," said Hayes.

According to Hayes, to handle the large task, maintenance Airmen from each shop in the maintenance group are selected to help.

"We usually have a rotation from the different shops," he said. "If there is an error or problem with the aircraft, one of the Airmen from that shop can take care of it then. We all work on different areas of the aircraft but we come and do this together as a team."

Along with teamwork, attention to detail also plays a role in both the wash and inspection. To save time with both duties, the Airmen are split up to inspect and clean specific sections of the aircraft.

"There are people on the wings and the empennage and people working on the fuselage and the engines," said Senior Airman Gregory Pangallo, 2 MXS crew chief. "We really hit everything from the front of the aircraft to the back. We get it all."

Before they disperse to their sections, the Airmen must don their PPE which consists of a heavy duty water resistant jacket, two pairs of gloves, a pair of goggles and a face shield. The equipment protects them from strong chemicals that are harmful to their skin, said Hayes.

"The PPE works well but it's like wearing a sauna suit or being in full mop gear, especially during the summer days," said Pangallo. "There are breaks but you are working hard the whole time; you can get dehydrated very fast if you don't watch yourself."

However, hot wash suits aren't the only draw backs when it comes to the wash. According to Staff Sgt. Eric McKenzie, 2 MXS wash supervisor, in order to make the wash go smoothly, the unit needs more equipment and volunteers.

"Unfortunately we are limited to one pressure washer as opposed to working with four or five," he said. "We are also limited on the number of people available due to the number of wash suits we have. It's a timely process but the more people you have the easier it goes. If you work on an aircraft you can volunteer."

After the wash, the B-52 is moved next door to the phase hangar to begin its 14-day inspection where maintainers inspect the aircraft and make repairs.

"A clean aircraft is more mission ready," said McKenzie. "We can't inspect a dirty aircraft; we would miss spots. You could look directly at a crack, but with dirt and grease covering it there is no way you could tell it was there."

According to Hayes, the aircraft wash plays an essential part of keeping the B-52 reliable and mission capable.

"If we don't do a good job with our wash, we can't do a good job with our inspections," he said. "If we don't do a good job with our inspections, then we are going to miss critical items that can cause severe problems and degrade the mission capability of putting bombs on target."