News>An end of an era - M117 bombs depart RAF Welford
RAF WELFORD - Senior Airman Justin Hendrickson loads M117s into an ISO container. He is being spotted by Staff Sgt Christopher Byron. The last M117s were removed from RAF Welford Sept. 2 by Airmen assigned to the 420th Munitions Squadron.
RAF WELFORD - Senior Airmen Christopher Berg and Nathan Fahy guide Staff Sgt Darrin Coulombe down a narrow road with a full ISO of M117’s to be loaded onto a trailer for out shipment.The last M117s were removed from RAF Welford Sept. 2 by Airmen assigned to the 420th Munitions Squadron.
RAF WELFORD - A pallet of M117’s removed from here is being loaded onto a vessel to be transported to Sweden. The last M117s were removed from RAF Welford Sept. 2 by Airmen assigned to the 420th Munitions Squadron.
by Master Sgt. Kenneth C. Burnett
420th Munitions Squadron Operations Flight Chief
9/9/2009 - RAF WELFORD, United Kingdom -- The final day has come! The last remaining M117 General Purpose Bombs at the 420th Munitions Squadron, Royal Air Force Welford were removed Sept. 2.
This journey began over a year ago with Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe soliciting for a contractor to agree to demilitarize 3,509 bombs. As RAF Welford is the command's forward operating location for bomber aircraft, it was the optimum location for storing the M117 bombs until the decision was made to demilitarize the bombs. The accomplishment of shipping the M117s for demilitarization served three-fold for the Welford storage site: disposing of outdated munitions, reducing net explosive weight as directed by command, and eliminating munitions from outside storage to meet 3rd Air Force's agreement with the United Kingdom government.
The M117 is a 750 pound general purpose bomb with an explosive weight of 403 pounds and is smaller in comparison to mark 80 series bombs. It was standard arsenal for various 1950s aircraft that have been since retired. Until recently the everlasting B-52 Stratofortress carried the M117. The M117 bombs were vital weapons dropped extensively in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. However, the bombs are no longer a component of the Department of Defense supply inventory, hence, the reason for M117 Demilitarization Project.
The M117 contract was awarded at end of 2008 to a Norway company for $2.3 million and funded by Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Force Materiel Command. On March 1, RAF Welford was charged by headquarters to stow 3,509 bombs into International Organization for Standardization containers for shipment with a deadline of March 31.
This was an enormous task that required a concise plan of action with focused logistics. This demilitarization operation served two purposes, which was to reduce the net explosive weight footprint and store the remaining munitions inventory into facilities. With this, began the M117 demilitarization project which centered on strict in transit visibility by the men and women of the 420th Munitions Squadron.
The senior noncommissioned officers of the 420th Munitions Squadron were the staple for constructing a game plan that led to the successful transportation of 3,509 M117 bombs. The game plan had to factor these bombs were exposed to inclement weather for years, causing the wooden pallets to degrade made forklift and movement operations challenging. Additionally, time-consuming efforts were required with precision cut wood to block and brace these assets for safe transport. Simultaneously while this demilitarization operation was occurring, with 50 percent manning reduction we enabled 15 million dollars facility demolition/renovation projects to stay on schedule by providing security escort to contractors that were working throughout the 806 acre munitions storage area. Nevertheless, a total of 584 triple stacks/3,509 bombs had to be banded in accordance with United States Army shipping requirements.
The munitions personnel were able thrust forward with building the blocking and bracing (a total of 20,000 board feet of lumber valued at $32,000), banded stacked pallets (32 feet of banding per triple stacked totaled 18,688 feet) and moved 74 empty ISOs while demolition/renovation contractors worked. We capitalized on the one-hour mandatory contractor breaks, by reallocating munitions personnel to stack bomb pallets, and moved the pallets to ISOs. Before executing the plan of operation, we completed a test in the first week of March 2009 loading eight triple stacks of M117 bombs (i.e., totaling 48 M117 per ISO), which took 4 hours. By the time March 23 came, 420th Munitions Squadron personnel were able to load an ISO in less than 30 minutes. During contractor work from March 1-20, which occurred in the Munitions Storage Area, munitions personnel were able to load 25 of 74 ISOs. On March 23, the contractors relocated their work outside the storage area, so crews were able to load an average of 12 ISOs per day. On a drizzling afternoon of March 26, Colonel Kimberly K. Toney witnessed the 74th ISO loaded and all munitions were stored indoors, and the M117s positioned for out shipment surpassed the headquarters' deadline five days ahead of schedule.
In the following months, all 74 ISOs were prepared and taken to the Great Oakley Port near Harwich for shipment to their demilitarization site. The port's intake capacity was limited, thus the M117 shipment had to be piecemealed a few days each week for the past four months, which brings us to September 2nd with the last four ISOs of M117 bombs departing Royal Air Force Welford for good.
This was an extraordinary operation for the men and women of the 420th Munitions Squadron. During this entire process, the Airmen found innovative ways to streamline the process and cut load time by 50 percent. Over 5,000 man-hours were expended during the loading and escorting, all the while 30,000 thousand dollars plus saved in transportation costs. Moreover, zero time and money lost with contractors working on 15 million dollars on renovation projects. As a team, we stood together, worked diligently, and conquered the task levied on us with zeal. We had zero mishap incidents throughout the M117 demilitarization project. As such the 501st Combat Support Wing Commander awarded all 52 members of the 420th Munitions Squadron the Air Force Achievement Medal for precision movement operations. The M117 General Purpose Bomb served its nations well and must end the acquisition life cycle journey to make way for precision guided munitions of the 21st Century.