C17 Inadvertent Gear-Up Landing Bagram, Afghanistan



Damaged C-17 moved off Bagram runway

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Feb 7, 2009 9:27:59 EST

More than 200 people and a 120-ton crane were needed to move a badly damaged C-17 Globemaster off a runway at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The C-17 made a wheels-up landing Friday at the base, the largest military airfield in Afghanistan. While the accident did not completely shut down Air Force and Army flight operations out of Bagram, the plane wreckage limited the use of Bagram until Monday’s operation.

“A lengthy runway closure is our worst nightmare at Bagram,” Brig. Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Bagram’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, said in Air Force release.

Crash recovery teams, some flown in because of the incident, developed a plan to lift the $200 million plane long enough to lower its landing gear.

“Being a first-time incident did not impact our course of action. ... This is what we train for,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Mixson, lead team chief for crash recovery. “We put together a group of experts so we could pool our resources and see what was available to work with at the time.”

After more than two days of concentrated effort, the recovery crew managed to lift the aircraft high enough to extend its wheels and prepare it for removal from the runway.

“We used a 120-ton crane assisted by six 26-ton airbags to finally lift the aircraft from the runway,” Mixson said.

“The major lesson learned was that the technical data for a C-17 recovery did not list any alternate methods,” Mixson added. “We were not able to place the airbags in the positions they needed to be because the entire fuselage section was laying on the runway. The crane allowed us to get the airbags into position.”

The Air Force is not commenting on the cause of the incident. Separate safety and accident investigation boards will search for factors leading to the crash landing.

Typically, if a crew knows its large aircraft has landing gear problems over Afghanistan and is otherwise airworthy, the plane is diverted for a landing as far away as Europe or the Persian Gulf region, where bases are better equipped to repair aircraft.

The last large Air Force jet to make a gear-up landing was a B-1B Lancer in May 2006. An investigation determined that the four-man aircrew forgot to lower the gear before touching down on a runway at Diego Garcia, an Indian Ocean island.

The investigation found that the pilots hadn't completed a mandatory landing checklist and overlooked a host of warning lights intended to remind them that the bomber's landing gear hadn't been lowered. An audio alarm that would have advised the pilots to lower the gear had been turned off a few minutes before they landed the plane.