Inside the Gates: Keeping Hangar 21 prepped to paint planes
Hangar 21 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is home to Alaska's largest paint booth. When civil engineers from the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing took over maintenance in early October, they had no idea what they would find in the humidifiers in the mechanical room up above.
"It hasn't run right for a long time and once we started pulling the machines apart and started seeing the calcium buildup that was in there, it was a little overwhelming at first," said Andy O'Donnell, an electrician with the 176th Civil Engineers.
Keeping the hangar's humidity at a constant and controlled level is vital to the paint used and the preservation of aircraft.
"With the new paints it requires a higher humidity to cure," said Todd Peplow, a state maintenance foreman with the same unit.
When engineers opened up the humidifiers, which basically are like large teapots, they found massive amounts of mineral calcification attached to the heat exchangers.
"The mineral buildup was just so huge that the systems couldn't put out, they were shutting down," Peplow said.
A total of 12 exchangers are in four units. Each one was packed with rock calcium formed from material brought in from mountain water.
"The heat exchangers weigh about 100 pounds each. With about 60 to 80 pounds of raw calcium solidified to each, we could barely lift them with two guys and get them downstairs to clean," O'Donnell said.
A total of 400 pounds of calcium was chiseled, scraped and hammered off of all of the exchangers combined. The rock was shoved into five-gallon buckets and lowered down engineers on a scissor lift.
"Between our four units we filled up a 55-gallon drum with rock calcium," O'Donnell said.
The engineers also noticed that the water lines were incorrectly installed and all the plumbing had to be redone.
"We just had to refabricate everything and then actually add some pieces they didn't have before that will help us keep our system clean," said maintenance journeyman Scott Taylor.
To make the repairs worse, as the engineers were in the middle of the cleaning process, the Nov. 30 earthquake hit.
"One thing at a time is no problem, but when it started accumulating, it became pretty major," Peplow said.
Nearly six months after the earthquake, the hangar's humidifiers are working without a problem. The engineers make sure to check the lines and exchangers every 175 hours. It's these behind-the-scenes heroes that allow everyone else in the 176th Wing to do their job, and to be ready when called upon.
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