Health & Safety

July 27, 2012

Airfield management gets call when in-flight, ground emergencies occur

Photo and story by Airman 1st Class Grace Lee
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Senior Airman Kory Hitchens, 56th Operations Support Squadron Airfield Management Operations shift lead, picks up the primary crash phone July 25 at the Luke Air Force Base operations building. The phone rings whenever there is an in-flight or ground emergency.

Hundreds of phones ring across Luke Air Force Base each day and sometimes go to voicemail. There is one phone, however, that has to be picked up no matter what. It’s called the primary crash phone and it’s red.

The crash network center is in airfield management; its purpose is to inform agencies either by phone or radio of in-flight or ground emergencies.

The whole process begins with a call from air traffic control on the primary crash phone to airfield management.

“No matter what we are doing at the operations counter, as soon as the red phone rings, we drop whatever it is,” said Senior Airman William Hazard, 56th Operations Support Squadron Airfield Management Operations shift lead. “The phone needs to be picked up right away because our job is to get the information out to other agencies as soon as we receive it.”

“In-flight emergencies range from a light going off in the aircraft’s cockpit indicating a possible system failure to a hung gun, which occurs when a bullet in an aircraft is stuck in the gun chamber and won’t fire,” said Senior Master Sgt. Paul Portugal, 56th OSS airfield manager.

However, not all incidents happen when the aircraft is in the air; sometimes they occur when the aircraft is on the ground.

“Ground emergencies can include fuel spills, nose gear malfunctions that cause the aircraft to have steering difficulties or hydrazine spills, which are caused when the emergency power unit starts leaking,” Hazard said.

Different terms describe the type of emergency occurring, like a hung munition, which refers to a simulated or live bomb that doesn’t drop when the pilot presses the button.

While it is important for airfield management Airmen to know the nature of the situation, what’s most important is the information given to the Airman on the receiving end of the call.

“When we get a call for an in-flight incident from air traffic control, we write down the information verbatim,” Portugal said. “Air traffic control gives the aircraft call sign, its type, the time, when and where it will land, how much fuel is left, and the nature of the emergency.”

The Airmen in airfield management use a black secondary crash phone to then disseminate the information simultaneously to 16 various agencies including the command post, fire department, security forces, public affairs and weather. Depending on the agency, some have the capability to communicate back while others do not.

“It’s important for us to get the information out to these agencies, because depending on the nature of the incident, certain agencies may need to respond,” Portugal said. “For example, if it’s physiological in nature, such as a pilot blacking out, then the flight doctor may need to respond. Or if there is an actual aircraft crash, then command post will need to know as well as medical personnel and security forces so they can cordon off the area.”

Although life-threatening in-flight or ground emergencies are a possibility, Portugal has not witnessed or recorded any aircraft crashes or explosions at Luke during his time here.

“We take every crash phone call seriously, because there’s always a possibility that something could happen,” Portugal said. “Aircraft emergency response is a total Team Luke effort. We take our responsibility seriously, and as a result, Team Luke continues to successfully train the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots and maintainers.”

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