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Aircraft arresting cable – a fighter pilot’s flightline lifeline
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Barrier Maintenance team tows the mobile aircraft arresting system cable into place here Sept. 5, 2012. The MAAS is a cable and braking system placed across an end of the runway to catch fighter aircraft that are experiencing a situation where they cannot stop. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah)
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Aircraft arresting cable - a fighter pilot's flightline lifeline

Posted 9/7/2012   Updated 9/7/2012 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

9/7/2012 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A call comes in to the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Barrier Maintenance team, springing its members to action.

Their truck's engine roars as they tear toward the flightline, where fighter aircraft wait for them to put the lifeline in place that will catch the pilots in the event of an emergency.

The aircraft will not be cleared to depart for their mission until the tower is notified the mobile aircraft arresting system, or MAAS, is ready.

"Tower, barrier maintenance. Be advised, cable number two is raised and in service," said Senior Airman Dustin Davidson, 380th ECES Barrier Maintenance technician, as he gave the word needed for the aircraft to safely take off.

The 380th ECES Barrier Maintenance section here is responsible for maintaining and raising the MAAS, which is a cable and braking system placed across an end of the runway to catch fighter aircraft that are experiencing a situation where they cannot stop.

"Basically, when a plane hooks our cable, the system's braking system stops it, protecting the aircraft and pilot from damage and harm," said Master Sgt. Robert Marshall, 380th ECES Barrier Maintenance NCO in charge.

Typically, this system is associated with Navy aircraft carriers.

"It's the same system," said Marshall, who is a Lockport, N.Y., native deployed here from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y. The system is used on all fighter aircraft with a tail hook, including Air Force fighters, Navy F-18s and EA-6s, British Royal Air Force Tornados and more. Due to the high speed of these fighters on takeoff and landing, their runway distance is smaller and requires an aircraft arresting system to stop the plane in the event of an in-flight emergency, Marshall said.

The MAAS is basically a modified B-52 braking system with a tape and cable, said Davidson, a Jacksonville Beach, Fla., native deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy. A reel of nylon tape - similar to a seat belt - is connected to the braking system. A one and one-quarter-inch-thick wire cable is attached to the other end of the nylon tape through a connecting device.

There are four MAAS at the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, placed in sets of two at each end of the runway, and one on each side, Marshall said. The systems' cables are attached to one side at all times.

When barrier maintenance is called to raise the cable, it is towed across the flightline and is attached to the system waiting on the other side. It is tightened, and then kept at a minimum of two inches off the runway by cable support discs, which the team must evenly space out. This allows for the aircraft's tail hook to engage the cable, no matter where on the cable it hits.

When an aircraft must engage the cable, a situation also called a "barrier engagement," the system acts like a giant B-52 brake, stopping the aircraft on the runway. Marshall said he's seen many pilots often shaken up and thankful after they've experienced a barrier engagement.

"One pilot told me about 50 times, 'Thank you'," Marshall said. "To get to see the system work and save the pilot and the aircraft makes me feel good."

"I like the excitement of hauling out to the cable (after a call) like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but I really like seeing the plane coming, knowing it could crash, and then seeing it catch the cable," Davidson said. "(The pilot is) so shaken up but I'm calm, knowing that pilot can go home to his family."

"Barrier maintenance is not only important to the 380th ECES, but to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing and its fighter squadrons as well," said Master Sgt. Philip Nivens, 380th ECES Power Production NCO in charge and Marshall's supervisor. "Most times our aircraft arresting systems on the runway are the only thing between saving the pilot's life, the multimillion dollar aircraft and catastrophic loss."

The team has had two real-world engagements during their rotation, and both were successful, said Nivens, an Etowah, Tenn., native deployed from Shaw AFB, S.C.

"The team here is doing very well," he said. "They are a mix of active-duty and reservists but they have come together and are working well together."

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