Frozen on the flightline

I am frozen. Not just any frozen, the kind of frozen that makes you feel like you aren’t going to unthaw. The kind that freezes your skin so fast it starts to tingle and before long you can’t feel your appendages.

I’ll give you one guess as to where I was.

Yup…the flightline!

I seriously don’t know how our maintenance Airmen survive out there – but I don’t give them near the credit they deserve. Living in Wisconsin and working on the flightline in the winter is quite possibly the coldest profession one could choose. And, these Airmen raised their hands and volunteered to do it!

I spent four hours out there witnessing the coolest thing I’ve ever seen! Twelve jets were lined up on the flightline, waiting for their pilots to arrive so they could start their journey overseas.

The pilots came out of the operations building in three sets of four, 30 minutes apart from each other. Walking shoulder to shoulder, you could just feel their excitement as they mentally prepared to embark on yet another training mission.

When they got to their assigned jet, they did a walk around and before long were climbing up to the cockpit. Once sitting, they got their things situated and waited for the go-ahead from their crew chiefs. When the okay was given, the canopy closed and they started up their engines.

The sky filled with dark, almost black smoke. At first I thought they were on fire! As I was getting paranoid something had gone terribly wrong – my partner in crime (who prefers to remain nameless) pointed out they always do that in the cold. Apparently the hot air bursting out of the engine is enough to produce the massive smoke cloud! Phew!

After what seemed like an hour, the final checks were finished and the crew chiefs saluted their pilots as they sent them on their way. Down the taxi way they went where they got one more quick inspection.

One-by-one, their engines roared down the runway. The red/orange flame shot out of their engines – and they were off – Japan-bound to meet up with the others who’ve already arrived at Kadena Air Base.

The next few months will be amazing adventures for this crew. I won’t be joining them, but I’ll do my best to tell their story from the frozen tundra. I can only imagine the experiences they will have!

Next week we’re going to dig into maintenance a bit further. How on earth were they able to prepare 12+ jets for this mission, and still maintain the ACA jets for our homeland mission?! Pure skill here at the 115th!

Have an amazing week!

About Tech. Sgt. Andrea F. Rhode

Tech. Sgt. Andrea F. Rhode is a photojournalist for the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wisconsin.