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A team of Robins aircraft crash recovery personnel completes an annual exercise April 5 to raise the SR-71 Blackbird into a nose-up “take off’ position in the Museum of Aviation’s Century of Flight Hangar. (U. S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera/Released)
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SR-71 gets a bird’s-eye view inside hangar

Posted 4/15/2013   Updated 4/15/2013 Email story   Print story


by Jenny Gordon
Robins Public Affairs

4/15/2013 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- If you've strolled into the Museum of Aviation's Century of Flight Hangar lately, you may have noticed a bird with a new view.

After a three-day aircraft lift exercise April 3 through 5, the SR-71 Blackbird was elevated to new heights to appear as if it were in flight or taking off.

"(April 5) was the culmination of more than two years of work in our effort to elevate the SR-71 here at the museum. What terrific teamwork!" said Ken Emery, Museum of Aviation director. "The sleek 68,000 pound Blackbird looks awesome. The project placed new emphasis on the SR-71, gave us more ground-floor room for events and will allow us to bring a few more birds in from the brutal outside weather." Back in December, machinists and welders from the 116th and 461st Maintenance Squadrons metals technology sections and 573rd Commodities Maintenance Group created three stands to be used for the museum project.

The combined aircraft exercise came to fruition last week to coincide with annual training conducted by members of Robins' Crash Damaged and Disabled Aircraft Recovery team.

The entire project involved about 40 military and civilian representatives from across the base, including the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group, 116th and 461st Maintenance Squadrons, and aircraft safety and museum members.

The CDDAR team brought its equipment for the exercise, including air bags which were used to slowly lift the aircraft over a two-day period. Pallets or pieces of lumber were stacked together at the front and rear of the aircraft to get the plane to heights prior to lifting. Air bags were then placed on top of the stacked pallets.

Through the use of a low pressure/high volume compressor, each airbag was pumped with 7 pounds per square inch for the painstaking process of slowly lifting the former long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance plane. The air bags in closest contact with the aircraft were at 3.5 psi.

Once the aircraft was lifted above where the stands would slide under, it was slowly lowered back down; bolts were then used to secure everything in place.

"This was an amazing opportunity for the crash recovery team," said Master Sgt. Colby Brusch, 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group production superintendent. "It was a great opportunity for some training, to get all of our equipment out and see how it all works together. I think it looks pretty awesome."

"This was a unique lift all the way around," he continued. "This type of lift would never happen in a real crash recovery scenario; however, it's a great exercise for us to see exactly what this lift is capable of doing."

Brusch was referring to a 'flat, straight lift,' with all air bags coming up at the same time during a crash recovery. In a fairly common scenario, he added that a damaged aircraft would be assisted through the use of cranes, airbags that would be inflated, and gears lowered before being towed off for later inspection.

"The way we set the bags up is as if the plane had landed with its gear up," said Brusch, pointing to an actual recovery scenario. "If it had landed on its belly, we would've dug trenches underneath and lifted the aircraft to the point where you could lower the gear."

The SR-71, throughout its nearly 24-year career before the Air Force retired its fleet, remained the world's fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. It set a speed record of 2,193 miles per hour, and reached an absolute altitude record of more than 85,000 feet.

This plane arrived at the museum in 1990 and was placed in the hangar in 1996.

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