Airmen ingenuity makes deicing process safer and faster

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle
  • 167th Airlift Wing

It’s been said, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.

This certainly rings true for a recent change to 167th Airlift Wing’s process for filling aircraft deicing trucks with deicing fluid, improving both efficiency and safety.

Aircraft deicing trucks are mounted with a crane lifted basket. The operator sits in the basket and controls the deicing fluid sprayer. Deicing provides protection against ice build-up and snow contamination of critical control surfaces, engine inlets, and sensors on an aircraft prior to launch.

“I could never understand why it was so dangerous to fill a deicer and why we continued to accept the risk of injury to someone,” said Chief Master Sgt. Randy Gray, 167th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent.

To fill up the deicing truck with the propylene glycol and water mixture, aircraft maintainers drive the de-icing truck up to the 30,000 gallon glycol tank in the Petroleum, Oils and Lubricant, or POL yard.

The old process required a maintainer to climb on top of the 10-foot tall deicing truck, while another maintainer climbed a set of stairs next to the glycol tank. From the top of the stairs a hose from the tank was swung over to the top of the trucks de-icing fluid tank hatch, and then caught and guided into the tank by the maintainer on the truck.

This typically happens when there is snow and ice on the ground which creates yet another hazard for the process.

Gray said he knew there had to be a better, safer way to get the job done.

He dug into the deicing truck’s technical order and found they were designed to be filled from the bottom up.

“In fact, the technical order had a warning stating ‘Do not fill from the top,’” he said.

Gray said that the top-filling process has been passed down, maintainer to maintainer, and that he’s never seen the deicing trucks filled any other way. Furthermore, the glycol tank’s pump system had been built to top fill the trucks.  

Gray said it was Tech. Sgt. Brian Patton, a crew chief for the 167th AMXS, who really lit the fire under him to take action.

“Tech. Sgt. Patton was training some technicians on deicing and came into my office stating that he was scared watching the technicians getting on top of the deicer when refilling just hoping no one fell off and was severely injured,” Gray said.

Gray made some phone calls and found himself speaking directly to the engineer of the pump for the glycol tank. They did some calculations and determined what piping, hoses, elbows and fittings would be needed to bottom fill the trucks.

The one part that couldn’t be purchased, a flange to fit a two-inch coupler, was manufactured on base in the machine shop.

“Finally, on Aug. 28 everyone crowded around as we hooked up the new plumbing configuration and crossed our fingers. To our surprise, not only did it work but the deicer filled in a fraction of the time than when top filling,” Gray said.

Top filling the aircraft could take up to an hour. The new process takes 15-20 minutes, and could be completed by just one maintainer.

Gray said he is excited about the success of the new process and hopes to tackle a few more projects before his retirement next year.