Safety first Special Air Mission Wing
© Jan Brandes

Safety first

  • TEXT SASCHA BORRÉE
  • PHOTOS JAN BRANDES

Horst Schuller and Claus-Peter Tödten of Lufthansa Technik maintain the Special Air Mission Wing Ministry of Defense fleet, which is also retained for ­German government officials. A peek behind the scenes.

We’re currently inspecting an Airbus A310 that has come to Hamburg for a comprehensive overhaul. It’s special because it is part of Germany’s Flugbereitschaft BMVg (Special Air Mission Wing Ministry of Defense) gray fleet.

Four of these five planes can be converted from passenger plane to freighter, aerial refueling plane for fighter jets or even into a flying hospital.

In a medical evacuation configuration (MedEvac) it can carry 44 patients in beds, including intensive care for up to six patients. At full capacity, the medical staff on board consists of 25 doctors and nurses. With this aircraft, the German Air Force evacuates patients from deployment areas and crisis regions.

Lufthansa Technik provides technical support for these planes as well as for eight other military aircraft. Here in Hamburg, we take care of all the big overhaul and repair jobs that require specialist knowledge. Smaller maintenance jobs and general troubleshooting is done by the Air Force itself at its base in Wahn, near Cologne.

The downtime originally scheduled for our current IL check – an overhaul that takes place at intervals of six years – was actually two months. But then, some of our technicians spotted the wing bolts. They discovered traces of corrosion in 100 of the bore holes on the wing into which these bolts are sunk.

The aluminum alloy had reacted with oxygen in a similar way that iron does when it rusts. This sort of thing doesn’t affect an aircraft’s structural stability, but it is precisely why regular checks are so necessary – because you discover and eliminate material defects at an early stage. In this case, though, the repair job turned out to be trickier than usual.

Tödten and Schuller in the crash net, which secures the caro during flight

Tödten and Schuller in the crash net, which secures the caro during flight

© Jan Brandes
More space for freight in the A310 without seats

More space for freight in the A310 without seats

© Jan Brandes

  We treated each bore hole individually, enlarging it with a cutting tool called a reamer. The result was subsequently checked in a follow-up inspection: Had we managed to remove all the corrosion? If so, great. If not, we would have to enlarge the holes a tiny bit more.

Since there was always a chance that our maintenance work might affect the wing structure, we had to consult the manufacturer, Airbus, every now and then. Often, it would take a day or two for them to get back to us.

Additionally, we had to order new bolts for the enlarged bore holes. Some, which had very specific dimensions, had to be flown in from the USA, Asia or even South Africa. As a consequence, the technical overhaul had to be extended to almost four months.

But even if repairing and maintaining these planes is no different than for other aircraft, Special Air Mission Wing MoD is still a special client. For historical reasons, too.

In 1955, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer flew to Moscow on a Lufthansa Lockheed Super Constellation where he managed to negotiate the release of the last German prisoners of war from Soviet captivity.

Today, the Special Air Mission Wing MoD in Cologne retains two A340s, two A319s and four Bombardier Global 5000s for members of parliament and German government officials. Lufthansa Technik continues to maintain them all.


Special Air Mission Wing MoD

Safety first Special Air Mission Wing

Multitasker

The Special Air Mission Wing MoD provides transportation for government officials, troops, medical and aid missions, as well as freight.

Flying high

The fleet consists of five Airbus A310-304s, two Airbus A340-300s and two A319CJs, four Bombardier Global 5000s and three Cougar AS-532 helicopters.

History

The Special Air Wing Mission MoD transported its first politicians in February 1957 – in a De Havilland DH 114. It joined the jet age with a Boeing 707 in 1968.