Volk Field offers valuable crash, recovery training

  • Published
  • By Maj. Penny Ripperger
The unthinkable happens. An aircraft goes down, there’s panic, there’s chaos and there’s destruction. The Crash Damage or Disabled Aircraft Recovery (CDDAR) team is one of the specialized, highly trained teams that would respond to this type of situation. To ensure team members are up to the task, the Volk Field Air National Guard base recently hosted an exclusive CDDAR training course unlike any other in the U.S. Air Force.

A CDDAR team will often find themselves in unique and sometimes precarious situations, such as pulling a jet out of dense swampland or recovering a 15-ton aircraft off a mountainside. Members of these teams must be experts at what they do, think outside the box and be meticulous record keepers.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Mike Turner, the National Guard Bureau’s CDDAR program manager, a CDDAR team has three objectives: 1) To clear runways as efficiently and safely as possible, 2) Prevent secondary damage, in other words, don’t cause further damage to the aircraft or the surrounding area, and 3) Preservation of investigative evidence.

Prior to the CDDAR course at Volk Field, the only training available to CDDAR team members was a basic course held at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. This course is valuable to new CDDAR team members and is required prior to attending the Volk Field CDDAR course.

According to Turner, the Sheppard CDDAR course primarily consists of classroom instruction and ‘sanitized’ situations where students are required to lift an aircraft, a training requirement for CDDAR team members. However, at Sheppard it is very structured and choreographed and takes place on pavement. The students don’t experience real-world issues where it’s messy and creative solutions are needed.

“Sheppard will teach them what a strap is and how to use it,” said Master Sgt. Jordan Jensen, Volk Field CDDAR Subject Matter Expert. “Our goal is to teach them to more or less be a leader and handle a situation with a bunch of senior leadership around and everyone is high-strung because their buddy just ejected or someone died — it can get crazy. So the more knowledge that we can give them here, so they can understand and try to control the situation as much as possible in the moment, is what we are going for.”

The concept of a more hands-on course was the result of several subject-matter experts who were passionate about CDDAR, saw the need for expanded training and recognized the unique capabilities that Volk Field could offer.

“This class is a culmination, a vision that quite a few of us had, but Master Sgt. Jensen was the catalyst for many years,” said Jody Fisher, lead instructor and CDDAR assistant program manager. Jensen handled the logistics to ensure that the training would happen at Volk Field. The first training class was offered last September, and the most recent course took place May 22-26.

Last May, 11 subject-matter experts came to Volk Field to create a curriculum for the course. The instructors stayed for a week, challenging themselves on how they could bring the course to a new level. And the instructors were not exempt from learning themselves. Every scenario that they bring to the students is a scenario that they themselves had to try and figure out.

“Ninety percent of our students, unless they’ve been part of a real-world scenario, have never done anything like this before,” Turner explained. “There is no place else that I’m aware of in the Guard, Reserve or Air Force that has this level of training — nowhere. These guys have come together, put this course together, and they’ve done a phenomenal job.”

What makes Volk Field such a great training environment is the accessibility to the Repair, Reclamation, and Recovery site — otherwise known as the Triple R site — located on the base. This training area includes numerous aircraft training aids that the students can use for training without having to worry about damaging the equipment. Students still consider secondary damage as a result of their decisions, although in this training environment the damage would be a learning tool for real-world recoveries. The instructors simulate situations where the aircraft is stuck and the students must figure out a way to recover it. According to Turner, it’s hands on, it’s messy and it’s fun.

“The value of this is that every unit has aircraft, but you can’t lift operational aircraft,” Turner said. “You can’t do any of these things and this is really what the advantage of having this training at Volk. You can actually do what you want to do and if somebody screws up and you damage an airplane — no harm, no foul.”

In addition to rigging and towing aircraft, the students are also tasked with working on a simulated crash site.

“We have debris in the woods and they have to go in and survey an entire area and do an aircraft recovery, identifying all the parts and picking them up,” Turner said. “There are also certain parts out there that are made out of simulated burnt composite and there’s a certain way we have to claim these things, and a certain amount of PPE [personal protective equipment] that you have to wear. They get fully suited up to recover these items. This is a big part of the training because modern aircraft are mostly made out of composite, so when you go to a crash site and you’re trying to recover an airplane, burnt composite is a real issue, a real hazard, a physical hazard and something that we have to train.”

Jensen explained that it is important that the students also get the opportunity to familiarize themselves with as many pieces of equipment as possible.

“Whether it’s a flatbed, a tractor trailer, a lowboy, 10K all terrain fork lift and a pay loader, we make sure they get experience on the equipment,” he said.

The instructors ensure that the students experience every kind of exercise scenario that they may run into in the field within their jobs. They also focus on developing leadership skills and learning from each other.

“We design the scenarios to be very challenging and complex to develop those skills and get them to think outside of the box. ‘How can I recover the aircraft without damaging it further?’ That’s the whole premise of what we are doing,” Turner said.

The need to have trained CDDAR teams is not going away. Every flying unit has a CDDAR team, although the makeup and skill level can vary from base to base.

“This is an additional duty,” Jensen said. “They are all maintenance personnel. You are appointed by the commander to be on the team and must fulfill annual requirements.”

To maintain these important skills and complete the annual requirements, the CDDAR course will be offered at Volk Field two times a year, with up to 60 students per class. The training course conducted in May was only the second time that it had been offered to field units. Both classes were nearly full, and the instructors see the popularity of this course only increasing as the value of the training is communicated to the field.

“I believe that we do have an advanced class here,” Fisher said. “This class is built by volunteers who come here, who are system experts, the guys that actually instruct this class and they love it. We’ve met our objectives of taking what we used to have for a team chief class and brought it to an extreme level. We have something special here.”