Laughlin, AETC tackle hailstorm recovery, one year later


More than 18 months ago, a series of severe thunderstorms rolled through Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, dropping large chunks of ice on buildings, cars, and aircraft alike.

The hail that rained down on the area Feb. 22, 2016, brought devastating effects to the base’s infrastructure. Along with the buildings, the storm put Laughlin’s pilot training mission at risk when more than 80 percent of the training fleet was grounded due to exceptional hail damage.

Charles Webb, the 47th Maintenance Directorate acting director of maintenance, and Michael McComas, 47th Civil Engineering director, were firsthand witnesses to the barrage the storm brought during the hours of darkness the night before.  The next morning’s damage assessment opened their eyes.

“We all quickly realized Laughlin would not be able to recover by itself,” said Webb. “We would need extra bodies to repair the aircraft, we would more than likely need loaner aircraft from throughout [Air Education and Training Command], and we would need engineering support to help assess the damage.”

McComas had similar eye-opening views of the building’s new appearances.

“There was substantial structural damage,” McComas said. “A lot of broken windows and hazards, as well, that were left to [ ... ] be fixed immediately.”

According to both McComas and Webb, not only did the damage not stop Laughlin and its Airmen from completing its mission, but fast forward to Aug. 23, 2017, it’s made Laughlin a stronger and more resilient base thanks to its Airmen, AETC, and community partners in Del Rio.

“From the time of the storm the wing stood up the crisis action team in the command post. This kept us in constant communication with AETC,” Webb said. “There was no hesitation in AETC providing us everything we needed. [They] sourced aircraft from several bases in the entire command.”

The support from AETC extended not only to the aircraft, but to the base itself.

Along with support from the neighboring city of Del Rio, Texas, everyone acted fast and resourcefully to repair damages to incapacitated work centers.

“Most of the damage was done to facilities in and around the flightline,” McComas said. “The restoration was performed quickly thanks to our partners, and we were able to get these facilities operational again.”

“We have received numerous manning assists from throughout AETC and are still relying on those manning assists to meet the mission today,” said Webb. “From the very first day this has been an AETC enterprise issue with an AETC enterprise solution.”

According to Webb, the still currently active process has seen full restoration of Laughlin’s infrastructure and the recovery of all three airframes, minus one of Laughlin’s T-1 Jayhawk aircraft.  The consistent, steady progress has not only seen the recovery of Laughlin’s fleet, but also looks forward to a ramping up pilot training program seeking to accept more pilots than ever before.

“The recovery of the T-38 [Talon] and T-1 fleets [have] been extremely labor-intensive,” Webb said. “The Maintenance Directorate has been working overtime and weekends throughout the recovery process. As a result, all 22 damaged T-38s were methodically rebuilt and flown within 10 months. Our best estimate of our T-1 fleet will be fully recovered by July 18, [2018].”

When a storm 18 months ago rolled in, dropping large chunks of ice onto Laughlin, it damaged not only the base’s infrastructure but also nearly stalled the base’s pilot training mission.  Today, according to both Webb and McComas, the recovery effort is almost at completion and fully operational once again thanks to the hard work of base Airmen, AETC, and Del Rio community partners.