445th maintainers give C-17 a bath

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Charlie Miller
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Like other aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster III gets dirty and has to take a bath. Keeping these aircraft clean is not only important for its appearance but it's an important part of its overall aircraft maintenance.

The 445th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron has the equipment and manpower to clean the 174 foot C-17 at home station, unlike the massive C-5 Galaxy that had to be flown to Dover Air Force Base, Del. for its wash. With a crew of 12 or more, it takes about three days to give each plane a complete cleaning: under floors, interior and exterior.

"We go over each plane with a fine-toothed comb," said Senior Airman Steven Klepeisz, 445th Maintenance Squadron. "One of the hardest things is seeing stains on the aircraft skin and scrubbing 10 times, and they still don't come out."

For each wash, the C-17 is brought into building 4016. The floor in the hangar is designed to route water into a labyrinth of floor drains to collect the water. And collect water they do; pressure-washing a C-17 can use 500-700 gallons of water.

"All of our water goes into a trap," said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Burkheiser, 445th AMXS. "We use a 'green' bio-degradable soap that is part of our qualified products list for the C-17."

Airmen on the wash crew wear water repellant ensembles and face shields to protect them from the cleaning solution and the debris that comes off the planes. They are armed with three-foot-long washer wands. The washing crew finds themselves 65 feet in the air spaying the soapy mix down onto the tail section one day and laying on their backs on the floor of the hanger spraying upwards cleaning the belly of the plane the next day.

"You get dirty and sweaty, but at the end of the day the plane is clean and that's the mission for us," Klepeisz said.

According to Burkheiser, each plane is washed every 180 days or as required. He also added that if they fly through a volcanic ash cloud, land on a desert or dirt airstrip or spend time near saltwater, bath time comes quicker.

"Anything that can cause corrosion must be removed from the planes in a timely manner," Burkheiser said. 

After the wash process, the newly bathed C-17 is towed out of the hangar and is ready to take on its next mission.