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Military Might

The giant C5 Galaxy jet is the foundation of the base’s status as one of the largets cargo operations in the world.

D

over Air Force Base has a history as one of the premiere military facilities in the country. We call the men and women who work there our friends.

From the highway the spectacle of two dozen C5 Galaxy jets on the flight line at Dover Air Force Base is extremely impressive. Arranged as they are, in a long row, their huge bodies, drooping wings and towering tail sections seem an apparition. Hangers obscure the ground so vehicles, people or other familiar items that would lend scale to the view are missing and these aircraft are so large it is difficult to guess their distance or dimensions. Wingtip to wingtip they measure 222 feet and nose to tail 248 feet. The top surface of the horizontal stabilizer is 65 feet above the ground - over six stories! The 436th Airlift Wing and the 512th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve operate 36 C5As and C5Bs from Dover. A flight line for all 36 1999 GUIDE TO DELAWARE

would be over 1 ½ miles long! It requires a little luck or good timing but one spot on Rt. 113 offers a view that some may consider a little too good. The end of the two-mile long North/South runway is three hundred yards from the highway. If you should find yourself at that location as a loaded C5 is climbing out at full throttle, warn the kids. It is a site to behold and a sound unlike any other. The operational statistics of the C5 are astounding. The cargo compartment is 121 feet long, 19 feet wide and 13 ½ feet high. That’s enough space for two of the Army’s M1-A1 Abrams battle tanks, 6 Greyhound busses, 7 UH-1 (Huey) helicopters, 8 F-5 fighter planes or 26 million ping pong balls. Capable of in-flight fuelling they can remain

airborne until the crew runs out of food. Topped off at 51,000 gallons of fuel the C5 can carry 130 tons 3000 miles! What would Wilbur Wright think? Four thousand active duty Air Force men and women live on the base and in the adjacent communities. They’re purpose is to support the operation of the C5. Their roles in our national security and the local communities are significant. The national security role is crucial. The C5 is the U.S. Military’s primary means of rapid force deployment. With the C5, infantry battalions, artillery, tanks and heavy equipment of all kinds can be placed where they’re needed in hours. It’s a capability that no other country can match and it makes Dover Air Force Base and the people who run it very PHOTOGRAPH BY KEVIN FLEMING


important. Recently, the country has assumed humanitarian and peacekeeping missions and the C5s are the primary means of transport for those operations as well. It’s a busy place, so busy the cargo handling facility is called the “Super Port”. Last year Dover supported 8806 missions. A mission is a flight in or out and by commercial standards that’s not a lot of flights. Philadelphia supports almost halfa-million. But considering the cargo the comparison isn’t really valid. Suitcases are much easier to handle than tanks. The Aerial Port Squadron Commander, Lt. Colonel Paul Curtis and his Operations Officer, Major Andrew Molnar are understandably proud of Dover’s military role but they describe the day to day operation of one of the largest cargo handling operations in the world as if it were a business. Quality control, efficiency, safety and productivity are just as important to the Air Force as they are to Federal Express. The programs that the Air Force and the U.S. military in general are conducting to improve the efficiency of material transport are remarkable. “In Transit Visibility”, an initiative that includes standard bar coding and computer tracking techniques, also features pallets that are tagged with radio transmitters. Receivers in the warehouses and depots note the arrival and departure of the pallet and post the information on the Internet. Shippers and customers can find out for themselves where their shipments are. With miniaturization of the components transmitters on individual packages will eventually be possible and as the costs go down commercial shippers will adopt the systems that the In Transit Visibility initiatives are perfecting. The machines and techniques

used in the base’s 205,000 square foot warehouse are even more impressive. Aircraft weight and balance calculations dictate the placement of items in the C5’s cavernous cargo compartment. The pilot must be sure that his aircraft has been properly loaded and he relies on another member of the flight crew to get it done. The Loadmaster uses the manifest that is provided by the mission commander, often the pilot, to create the Load Plan. Super Port personnel collect the pallets, equipment and containers in the Load Plan from “The Grid”, a huge steel framework outside the main warehouse. Massive, rail-riding robots called ETVs, Elevated Transfer Vehicles, take the pallets off the grid and place them on loaders for transfer to the aircraft. The latest addition to the Air Force’s fleet of loaders, “The Tunner”, is one of the strangest machines ever built. This forty-nine foot long, five axle, all-wheel-drive vehicle is named for General William Tunner, the Berlin Airlift commander. It not only carries six pallets and 60,000 pounds it can lift its load (and its operator) 18 feet in the air, and then tilt and rotate as needed to get properly aligned. The C5 is loaded from the ground but the Tunner is a tremendous time saver when loading aircraft like Boeing’s 747 and Lockheed’s L1011 which have elevated cargo bays. The Tunner became operational last year and Dover currently operates five. Eventually Dover’s ground controllers will monitor the movements of up to thirteen of these unusual and highly useful vehicles as they scurry about the airport. The C5 and the Super Port constitute a national asset of tremendous importance but Dover is also the home of a facility of historical significance, the Charles C. Carson

Center For Mortuary Affairs, or as it is known more commonly on the base, The Dover Port Mortuary. The Mortuary handles deceased Air Force personnel from Europe and Asia as well as any significant casualty events for which the State Department requires assistance. The victims of the Jonestown, Guyana mass suicide were taken to Dover as were the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie, Scotland casualties, and the Challenger astronauts. The Significant Events Board in the mortuary’s lobby lists these and forty-six other tragedies including the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, the Grenada and Panama invasions, The USS Iowa explosion and Desert Storm. Some of the more recent events listed are the crash in Croatia in which Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown was killed, The Vietnam Unknown Soldier and the Nairobi Kenya Embassy bombing. The first item on the board commemorates the fact that 21,693 Vietnam casualties returned home through Dover between 1966 and 1973. It is a factory operation with everything that kind of process requires including sequential workstations, computers, and OSHA regulations, but it is also an intensely emotional experience for everyone involved. After explaining the purpose and function of all the autopsy tables, x-ray stations, and transfer cases the Mortuary Officer, Mr. Michael Tocchetti, reveals how he and all the others that perform such an important and difficult service bear the stress. Even though the mortuary is equipped to handle one hundred casualties a day, Tocchetti, his staff, and the volunteers always remember that each individual in their care has a family and that is who they are serving. 1999 GUIDE TO DELAWARE


The public won’t hear much, if anything, about Michael Tocchetti’s historical findings but the history of Dover Air Force base and American military air transport are on display at the Air Mobility Command Museum located in the first hanger built on the field in 1940. Delaware Aviation History, the new book by Dover resident George Frebert, presents complete histories of all of Delaware’s airports, including Dover Air Force Base. Conceived as a municipal airport early in 1941, it became the Dover Army Air Base before it was finished in late December. From the start it supported important missions. The first unit assigned was the 112th Observation Squadron of the Ohio National Guard, which searched for German submarines off the east coast and in August of 1943 the Army Air Corps began training pilots in Dover to fly P-47 Thunderbolts. B-25 Mitchell bombers flew out of Dover on anti-submarine patrols and beginning in 1943 the 4146th Army Air Force Base Unit took over the DAAB to conduct highly secret engineering, research and development of air-tosurface rockets. Immediately after the war, activity at the base decreased dramatically and in 1946 it became officially inactive. Then, in 1948, CONAC, the Continental Air Command, took over. In 1949 the 9th Air Force moved in and the facility was renamed “Dover Air Force Base”. In July of 1950 the fighters returned. The Air Force taught pilots how to fly F Model Mustangs and F-86 jet fighters over Delaware’s farms and waters until 1952 when the Military Air Transport Service, the predecessor of today’s Air Mobility Command took over. The Air Mobility Command Museum, in hanger 1301 on the 1999 GUIDE TO DELAWARE

base, is officially chartered by the Air Force Museum to preserve aircraft and artifacts related to cargo aircraft and operations. They fulfill that charter with flying colors. Within the hanger and on the adjacent areas outside are numerous aircraft including a C-47 transport that carried troops of the 82nd Airborne on D-Day, a B-17 Flying Fortress, a P-51 Mustang, a C-54 that flew in the Berlin Airlift, a C-141 Starlifter, an F-16 and a PT17 Steerman biplane. In addition to these and roughly 14 other aircraft the museum houses displays on the Berlin Airlift, the Woman’s Air Force Service Pilots and the Congressional Medal of Honor. When the C5s are up they demand attention but despite its physical prominence and economic importance Dover Air Force Base is not an imposing presence in Delaware. The residents of Kent County look upon the men and women who work on the base as neighbors, friends, classmates and co-workers and unless there is a crisis we don’t necessarily demonstrate our appreciation for the protection they provide. But they are carrying the spear and all of us in Delaware can count on them for that.

Military Might  

This article was in Delaware Today Magazine's 1999-2000 Guide To Delaware. It's about Dover Air Force Base with information on the base's hi...

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