Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2014. augusztus 3., vasárnap

Boeing on the move – in Pápa

Text: Gabriella, photos: Szabolcs Simó, Tamás Fekete

There’s a military project in Hungary which can be quite mysterious to civilians, because there’s hardly any information about it in the media. This is the activity of the three C-17 in Pápa Air Base. The main goal of this report is to show what’s going on there, with Boeing’s local maintenance tasks in the focus, representing it through an average work day of my friend, Balázs Gampel avionics technician.  

But before we introduce Boeing’s local staff, the venue and the airplanes, I need to dissipate a misconception with the help of Mr. Ville Tuokko, Public Affairs Officer, Heavy Airlift Wing, Pápa. So: the three C-17 are not owned by the Hungarian Republic. Their owner is 12 nations (Hungary is among them) in the frames of the SAC (Strategic Airlift Capability) program to create a common possibility to fulfil their long-range military cargo need - cost effectively. As not all of them are a NATO member they had to have special organizations to own and operate them. NAM PO (NATO Airlift Management Programme Office) is the legal entity that owns the aircraft on behalf of the nations. The most important reason for having NAM PO owning the aircraft is that a single legal entity is required to act as the manager of the SAC assets and to hold the airworthiness certificates of the C-17s. The 12 nations have procured the aircraft together and share the costs of operating and maintaining them in proportion to their share of the SAC flight hours. They also make the decisions together about the use of the capability. Long-term decision-making takes place in the SAC Steering Board that has representatives from all of the 12 nations. The aircraft are wearing the Hungarian flag because they are registered in Hungary as we are the host nation of the program, providing the home base. As far as individual missions are concerned the nations request for them directly from the SAC operational arm, the Heavy Airlift Wing (local operation wing of the SAC program), according to their share of the program flight hours. SAC flight operations began in 2009 and ever since SAC has supported a wide variety of missions to serve the 12 nations’ needs in national defense, UN, EU and NATO missions and humanitarian relief. During the five years SAC aircraft have visited all continents of the world except Australia and Antarctica. A major destination since 2009 for SAC has been support flights to the SAC nations’ troops participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In the recent years we’ve seen an increase in mission requests with destinations in Africa. In 2013 SAC flew its first mission to Mali to support the UN approved operations there and this year in May they flew the first mission to support the UN-approved EUFOR RCA military operation of the European Union in the Republic of Central Africa. Also support to the training activities of SAC nations in Europe is becoming increasingly important. Humanitarian missions are flown when requested by the SAC nations. However, currently the vast majority of SAC missions are flown for military purposes.
Hungarian military paratroopers also jump out from C-17s sometimes, but mostly cargo flights to missions completing the Hungarian flight hours.
When we were there (18th June), SAC C-17s had flown approximately 13.900 flight hours on over 1.000 missions carrying nearly 95 million pounds (over 49,000 tons) of cargo and over 55.000 passengers, completed by the multinational staff of the HAW. The SAC program is planned for 30 years, so these records will rapidly increase.

Visiting the big boss

We started our Boeing tour at Pápa Air Base with interviewing Balázs’s boss, Mr. Mark Plummer to show you the bigger picture: the employer organization.  

Mr. Plummer is the Base Manager, responsible for maintenance and field services. He began his professional career with getting an aerospace engineering degree at Pennsylvania State University. Immediately after graduating, went work to Boeing (California) as an engineer for a couple of years, basically dealing with advanced systems. Later he moved to the flight test organization and participated in flight tests of commercial airplanes. After a couple of years, he went to the US Navy flight test program and then to the C-17 flight test program. Initially he started as a flight test engineer, later became a manager of maintenance and operation of two C-17 flight test airplanes including leading all the weather testing of the C-17 around the world. As he said, learned a lot about the airplane and had fun. Then he moved to the first operational base in South Carolina and spent 9 years there as the chief engineer for all the field operations of C-17s. The next station was Jackson, Mississippi, working as a base manager of support operations of their fleet of airplanes for another 10 years. Then the opportunity came to be a base manager at Pápa. He’s been here from the October of 2013. I asked him as the most authentic source to introduce Boeing.

Could you recall that moment, when you felt that you must work in the field of aviation?
Good question. As far as I can remember, when I was a kid, 5-6 years old, I was always interested in airplanes. I want to work on aeroplanes and space vehicles. When I got older and went further from the space and closer to aeroplanes. When I graduated in high school, it was tough selecting the right university but I wanted to go to that one which was very good at aerospace because I decided that’s what I was going to do. Many years later I feel that I made the right choice.

What are Boeing’s usual tasks here?
To give HAW whatever they need and which is in the contract between the NATO and Boeing. Providing all the maintenance of the C-17 airplanes on the flightline, plus solve the maintenance of the support equipment and provide part repairs in the backshops. We have a team of managers, mechanics and avionics technicians who do this. Additionally, we have a field services team here who provide a general support for supply. We also have an engineering unit – small team of three people – they provide the assistance when the maintenance guys need some special support. They can go back to the drawings of the aeroplane. For example, today we had a bracket which broke up in the wing of the aeroplane and we have to make a new one. So sometimes we need to find out how to make a new one or how to repair the old one. And we can do that onsite without turning to the home company, saving time with it.

How many employees are here at Boeing Hungary altogether?
We have 65 employees authorized today, but try to hire a few more. Our goal is to increase the number of Hungarian employees further to 22 persons by the end of the summer.

Do you know how many people were here in the beginning, 5 years ago?
We were authorized to hire 72 people, but over the time we come more efficient. Right before the arrival of the first C-17, a few Boeing employees (10-15 people) were here to prepare the base and equipment to be ready for the receiving the first airplane. This is how we could do the maintenance from the start. 

What do you consider the greatest achievements so far?
One of them is that we had to learn how to work with the national transportation authorities to operate the planes, to establish the qualifications, training requirements and certifications of the airplane. It was new to both parties. Specifically for the training, initially we required to go to the US Air Force’s maintenance schools, we had to send people there for months. Thanks to the close cooperation with the Hungarian transportation authorities, we can do the same training in Farnborough (UK) from next month, after they have approved it, so we can save a lot of money and time with it, additionally we can train quicker the locally hired people and they can begin work sooner.
The other achievement is the smooth working relations developed with HAW, taking that the SAC program involved 11 nations plus the Hungarian host nation. Now it’s rather like a team that works seamlessly together to complete the mission than a partnership. We have a meeting with the commander of HAW every morning where we can discuss the daily activities, the logistics and any areas that need to be worked that day.

Can we say, it is a success story after 5 years of the SAC program?
It’s a model and there’s been a lot of interest generated because the success of this. The planes have been able to fulfill several tasks from the war fighting to the humanitarian missions. Their capability is based on what they need.
Ville Tuokko: We are also a working example of the concept of Pooling and Sharing defense capabilities that has been introduced by both NATO and the European Union’s European Defence Agency .

Is the 3 aircraft is enough for all the mission requests of the 12 nations?
We have been able to meet the mission requirements based on what the SAC nations have requested with the 3 aircraft. We should ask them.

It can be very challenging to manage the different mission requirements.
We have a very busy job. We get the requests from the nations, for example a nation may have a humanitarian mission and they want fly to Africa. It means cargo from this location to that. HAW puts a plan together, they have to get all the diplomatic clearances on the ground and in the air. A tremendous amount of coordination is necessary every day.

Am I right that there’s a unique situation here, because Boeing professionals are doing the maintenance at the base, but usually, at air forces, soldiers are trained for these tasks?
Not completely. Most cases you are right. Most air forces (in the US or in other countries) maintenance personnel is part of the military unit. There are cases where some countries are contracted it out with companies like Boeing. In case of the C-17s specifically, Pápa was the first C-17 unit who contracted Boeing for maintenance. Since then, we’ve been contracted for some maintenance in the UK for the RAF, some maintenance in Australia to the RAAF and maintenance to the Kuwait Air Force so Boeing does C-17 maintenance in three other C-17 base locations. We also do other maintenance for US Air Force operations for C-32 and C-40. The majority of the maintenance work is still in the military.

I heard about the construction of a new the hangar complex here, which will have expectedly finished by 2016. Could you imagine it later as a European maintenance center/base for Boeing where all the maintenance tasks could be done, which are in the US at the moment?
It is going to be a tremendous asset for the SAC program and Papa Air Base. C-17 airplanes are required a scheduled maintenance activity (it is the so called home station check) in half a year and they are down for a week or two to open up all the panels and do the inspections. We do this in the summer months currently on the flightline in Pápa. Opening up the panels in winter time is not possible, because of snow or rain. Therefore we have to send the planes back to the US where they can do the maintenance inside a facility. This amount of time is extended with the travel time. Plus we have to send people and equipment to the US as well and it takes longer to do the maintenance. And during this time HAW doesn’t have the airplane to perform missions. So this time is wasted instead of doing missions. By having the hangar here, we could do all these maintenance locally and could send the planes back to the missions quicker. So it’s a big advantage. 

I read about air refueling practice on HAW website ( As far as I can remember, the report said, every pilot needs a certain number of practices in this field. Do the aircraft need any special preparation before it?
No, we do it a normal preflight procedure before it, there’s no special preflight requirements to UARRSI (Universal Aerial Receptable). We do just a function check: if the door opens. If it opens and the receptacles are there and match up the boom, everything is OK. On any mission the airplanes flies, we preflight this system.

Were these airplanes completely new when they arrived to here 5 years ago?
Yes, they were brand new, right after the production line, with zero hour. And now – five years later – after almost 14.000 flight hours altogether and over the 1.000th mission last Thursday, all the airplanes are doing well. The SAC airplanes are the most available ones in the global C-17 fleet and we are very proud of it from the maintenance side.

Are there any self-defense weapons on the airplanes?
No, only flares. It is an airlift airplane to move people and equipment, supply. Not all military airplanes have weapons.

An average, but interesting work day with Balázs

He’s been employed by Boeing for three years, working as an aviation technician. But when we met first time (around 8 years ago) he belonged to another type of cargo airplane, the An-26, serving as an aircraft radio operator with a staff sergeant rank, traveling a lot. He got used to the military environment in his childhood as his father was serving at the army, but it wasn’t enough to choose a career path in this field. The main motivation was the famous war movie, “Memphis Belle”. He saw it in his teenage and was totally amazed by the atmosphere of military aviation, wanted to experience it, so he had a straight way to a military school. 

With the An-26

During the education, he heard of an open radio-operator position in the An-26 squadron, what he applied to. After the medical test and the graduation in the school, he joined the squadron in the summer of 2001. After seven exciting years altogether at Szolnok and Kecskemét Air Bases, and after many mission flight he heard about the starting SAC project at Pápa Air Base. Attracted by the possibility to work in a brand new multinational environment, so get a job there at HAW, working as a diplomatic clearance specialist. It meant office work, dealing with the Hungarian and international authorities, but he missed the closeness of the airplanes and scent of kerosene, so he made a hard decision: gave up soldier life and changed the green uniform to Boeing’s sky blue workwear.
While mechanics are dealing with moving parts and structures, he as a technician inspects, repairs, tests, troubleshoots, aligns, calibrates, overhauls, and modifies all aircraft systems and their components. But he is mostly working on electric devices. His favorite fields are avionics and navigation, obviously because of his former job on the A-26. There is also a possibility to develop his skills, he was in Charleston Air Force Base for a formal C-17 training. Community life is sparkling at the company, there are often programs for the employees even together with their family members. For example, once a year, husbands, wives and children can make a sightseeing flight with a C-17 around Pápa. Even more, there is an actual sport project for workdays. The employees can get a step counter device, and when they reach a certain amount, they get a voucher to the local sport shop. The name of this motivation program is “Boeing on the move” this where I borrowed from the title of the report, as it expresses perfectly the dynamic present and the promising future of Boeing Pápa in my opinion. Balázs said, that he has 16.000 steps on an average day and he is only in the mid-range with it, very positive, that his boss (Mr. Plummer) is on the podium in this sport. As a matter of fact, the base is really large as we experienced it. For example we walked 15 minutes from the canteen to the flight line. 

The white car is for that cases when they don't want to walk or have to carry a lots of tools and parts

Every day began with a staff meeting, where they discuss the planned daily tasks. On the day of our visit, they were doing the Home Station Check on SAC03, SAC01 is in the US, performing its Heavy Maintenance which cannot be solved at Pápa. The Home Station Check starts with washing the exterior of the plane the mechanics and technicians remove the panels and check if there is any corrosion and if the systems function perfectly. The Heavy Maintenance means a more thorough inspection where Boeing updates the systems and structures, plus repaints the aircraft. It is due in every 5 year and lasts for 4 months. This will be the first time for the three C-17 from Pápa Air Base to undergo this process sequentially.

We followed Balázs during the day and documented his tasks in photos, which you can see here on this link:

If you want to see more of Szabolcs's photos, you can do it here:

and if you are also curious to see Tamas's other photos as well (many aviation-related) you can find them here:

If you are impressed by Balázs's job and want to join Boeing Hungary’s team, check the company’s career site on


We thank the possibility and the superb day to Boeing and the Heavy Airlift Wing!