Sending off aircraft safely
Why do runways need spraying with herbicides and why do snow-clearing machines need plane engines?
By Kirill Yevmenov
Aviation has always been viewed as an elite branch, with young boys (and men) dreaming of piloting a plane. However, behind the glamour of flying aircraft there is a whole team of ground staff: operators, engineers, mechanics, aviation technicians, control tower navigators, doctors and drivers. We visit the 50th mixed aviation base, in Machulishchi, to find out more.
The Mi-8 helicopter blades gain speed and the pilot is clearly instructed (over his headphones) by aviation technician Igor Velichko: ‘Accumulators and ground power supply are on! Socket voltage is one, two — ready! Transducer one hundred fifteen is on. The right is being launched! Rotation is running and the temperature is rising. Oil pressure is normal — as are the hydro-systems…’ The pilot is left in no doubt that his aircraft is ready for take-off, with no cause for concern.
None would argue that Mr. Velichko’s job requires skill. Not everyone can remember so many intricate words or the location of the numerous transducers and tumblers. It’s vital not to mix up the order of operations while testing radio-electronic devices, power systems and altimeters. Moreover, everything must be done within strict time limits: 85 minutes in summer and 115 minutes in winter. His team of specialists ensures that every aircraft is ready for its next flight. Few other jobs bear the same responsibility; in signing off a plane, they hold so many lives in their hands, as well as responsibility for expensive machinery. Needless to say, aircraft fuel is also highly flammable, so the crew takes extreme care on the ground. “Everything must be done meticulously,” Mr. Velichko asserts.
No definitive textbook exists for aircraft maintenance, and it takes at least a decade to train. Meanwhile, those who look after the runways also bear huge responsibility. A 3km runway can welcome the largest aircraft, including military-transport heavy-weight Il-76 and An-24 planes, alongside the world’s largest Mi-26 helicopters. Everything must be kept correctly, explains the Head of the Battalion Headquarters, Maxim Stanchik. He tells us, “In winter, we have more work to do, clearing snow. No flights can operate if the snow reaches a depth of one centimeter. To ensure a safe landing, the runway must be dry, without ice, so we use special heating machinery, equipped with aviation engines. While rotating at high speed, they create hot air which we can direct at the ice.”
Obviously, the surface of the runway needs to be kept completely smooth, without cracks or corrugations. Any damage is immediately filled with special bitumen and, as Mr. Stanchik explains, herbicides are sprayed to stop grass and weeds from growing. To scare birds away, dummies are placed around the perimeter and signal rockets deter ‘unwanted guests’.
The battalion is also responsible for the repair and servicing of aircraft, working in shifts day and night to keep the aerodrome operational. However, the military are always ready to help civilians where needed. Not long ago, the Xavier snow storm paralysed traffic along the road connecting Machulishchi with the highway. Dozens of cars were stuck so the battalion, led by their commander, rendered help on the spot. We’d expect no less!