Launch facility shelter enables PDM during winter months

  • Published
  • By 309th Missile Maintenance Group
The 309th Missile Maintenance Group provides depot maintenance and support for the U.S Air Force’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and Air Launched Cruise Missile fleets and associated nuclear-related equipment, including the ICBM boosters, propulsion system rocket engines, reentry systems, specialized transportation and handling equipment.

The group is also chartered with storage of war reserve boosters and transporting boosters to and from the operational missile wings.

In addition to the depot maintenance the 309th MMXG performs at Hill Air Force Base, they also have over 200 geographically separated personnel located at the three missile wings at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, and Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and at the testing and launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

These depot field teams have recently begun performing Programmed Depot Maintenance for our nation’s 450 ICBM Launch Facilities and 45 Launch Control Centers. This year they are on target to perform PDM at 36 LF and 3 LCC sites, ramping up to 57 and 6 sites respectively next year.

One of the tasks required at each LF is to lift the 110-ton main door up 26 inches while a technician climbs under to remove corrosion that has built up over the years. During the restoration process, primer and paint is applied to prevent corrosion.

These applications require an outside temperature of 40 degrees or higher, and during the winter months at any given missile location, temperatures often remain below freezing for extended periods of time.

To overcome this challenge, the 309th MMXG teamed up with the ICBM Systems Directorate and Northup Grumman to develop and purchase a shelter that could be easily deployed and flexible enough to accommodate each of the LF’s different topographies.

The solution was a two-piece inflatable shelter with flaps that would allow the two units to be tied together.

Zumro Inc., the manufacturer of the prototype shelter, performed a proof of concept and training event at the Strategic Missile Integration Complex at Hill AFB on Nov. 16, 2016. The simplicity to deploy amazed the depot field team members from the three locations.

“I was impressed how quickly the shelter went up,” said Floyd Edwards, a mechanic from F.E. Warren, after seeing that in less than 1½ hours, both structures were erected, positioned, secured and ready for use.

After approval from the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center engineering community, the prototype shelter was sent to Malmstrom, AFB in Great Falls, Montana, and on Jan. 9, 2017, the prototype was erected over a LF.

Dave Thomas, 309th MMXG lead engineering technician, reported, “With outside temps at -15 degrees, we were able to heat the inside to a balmy 70+ degrees.”

With the elevated temperature over the launcher closure door, the depot field team was able to work in a more comfortable environment. More importantly, they were able to perform the priming and painting operations that would have been otherwise delayed.

With this success, two additional shelters are being procured for the other two depot field team locations at F.E. Warren AFB and Minot AFB. Eventually each location will have four shelters.

Lt. Col. Brian Young, ICBM Product Support Division deputy said, “The prototype shelter is a resounding success as it greatly extends the very short timeframe northern-tier bases have to conduct outdoor corrosion control operations.”

Col. Eric Jackson, 309th MMXG commander, further highlighted the importance of the shelter by saying, “The accelerated development and acquisition of this shelter clearly demonstrates the ‘Art of the Possible.’ This will help us keep the tight schedule for ICBM Launch Facility PDMs on track, while protecting our depot field team personnel from harsh elements.”