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Dust abatement success for expeditionary airfields

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/01/2004

Story by Sgt. J.L. Zimmer III

AL ASAD, Iraq(May 1, 2004) -- The solution of a disturbing and dangerous problem for pilots and aircrew flying in the talcum-powder dust of the Iraqi desert has been implemented into the expeditionary airfields plan for airfield improvements.

The problem is known as brownouts and occurs when an aircraft approaches an area covered in dirt or when dirt is within the rotor wash of a landing zone. Brownouts, an occurrence that is potentially very dangerous, can cause the pilots to lose visibility when landing.

Sgt. Clyde C. Yancey, crew chief, Marine Light Helicopter Attack Squadron 167, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, has witnessed first hand the unsafe experience of a brownout.

"You can't even make out (the outline) of an aircraft in a brownout," said the 26-year-old Chapel Hill, Tenn., native. "When a (AH1-W Super Cobra) lands, they (have to) hover until the dust cloud settles."

Now, after field testing a dozen different products at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., tri-PAM, a mixture of three different substances; aluminum chlorohydrate, polyacrylamide and a super-absorbent, is being used here as a successful dust abatement solution.

"When we have a dust abatement problem, tri-PAM is our number one choice (for the problem)," said Lt. Col. Vernon C. Prevatt, commanding officer, Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "It is working quite well."

According to Prevatt, the tri-PAM solution relies upon identifying soil composition and then inserting additives at the molecular level.

In an article published in the December issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, Prevatt wrote, "The super-absorbent is a chemical that retains water and increases the efficacy of the dust abatement applications. It is used in products to absorb moisture (disposable diapers as an example). Aluminum chlorohydrate provides a positively charged ion to attract the negatively charged dust particles creating heavier particles to react with the PAM and super-absorbent."

Master Sgt. Damon Gray, staff non-commissioned officer in charge, expeditionary airfields, MWSS-273, MWSG-37, 3rd MAW, said the tri-PAM solution is a much-needed solution for the future of expeditionary airfield operations.

"Part of our job is always going to be around aircraft and areas like this. Whether it be on an existing airfield or a (forward operating base), we are always going to have the need for dust abatement," added the 37-year-old Philadelphia, native.

According to 1st Lt. Daniel L. Parrott, an AH1-W Super Cobra pilot, HMLA-167, MAG-16, 3rd MAW, and 26-year-old Mobile, Ala., native, the improvements to the airfield have increased the visibility for the pilots and aircrew.

"It's made a big difference," he said. "The worst place you want to be (in a brownout) is hovering a few feet off the ground and not being able to see the ground. Now, there is less dust and less time we have to spend a few feet off the ground."

Gray added that this is not only beneficial for the pilots, aircrew and aircraft, it will help the Marines applying it pass down necessary training to the next group of Marines to arrive here.

"Having the knowledge and the training to be able to apply this ourselves gives us the ability to share this with our fellow Marines in our (military occupational specialty) in the future," Gray concluded.

Sgt. Tracy N. Wilson, an EAF crew leader, MWSS-273, MWSG-37, 3rd MAW, has used other methods in the past and believes tri-PAM is the best solution.

"It works well, especially on certain parts of the airfield," added the 24-year-old Belvidere, Ill., native. "It's a pretty easy process."

Wilson added that although the process is easy, there is maintenance that must be performed once every couple of weeks. Part of the maintenance involves spraying water over the applied area to reactivate the tri-PAM solution.

According to the officer-in-charge of EAF, this new technique allows the EAF Marines to live by one well-known Marine Corps motto.

"We are going to leave the area here better than we found it," said Warrant Officer Brian S. Becker, EAF officer, MWSS-273, MWSG-37, 3rd MAW and 33-year-old Miramar, Fla., native. "This will make the next units job a little easier."

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