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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

C-130 heats up for new decon test, evaluation at Little Rock

by 2nd Lt. Mallory Glass
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/13/2011 - LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- A retired, ground-instructional C-130 Hercules is undergoing tests to determine how heat and humidity affect the decontamination process for an aircraft.

The tests, which run through August, use bacillus thuringiensis, a commercially-available organic insecticide, to simulate a biological agent. Base officials have reviewed the testing procedures and deemed them safe for the flightline and greater Little Rock Air Force Base community.

"We are using a simulant (bacillus thuringiensis) that has similar properties and reacts in the same way the actual agents would; however, here are no live agents," said 2nd Lt. James Reilly, the 19th Medical Group Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander. "The simulant is in no way shape or form harmful to individuals or the environment."

"By heating the interior of the aircraft from 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit in conjunction with a relative humidity at 80 to 90 percent over a period of one to five days, we will gain valuable data on how to destroy biological agents without harming the aircraft," said Tim Provens, an Air Force Research Laboratory project engineer at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The AFRL staff members, with the aid of several contracted organizations, are testing to see if "green" technology -- heat and humidity -- can neutralize the environmentally safe and simulated biological warfare agent. The technology has previously been demonstrated on a commercial aircraft in Orlando, Fla.

"It's good to see this old Herc continue its service to the nation," said Col. Mike Minihan, the19th Airlift Wing commander. "We're excited to be the test location, and I want to reassure everyone that there is no threat from the organic insecticide they're going to use to simulate a biological agent."

Currently, the Air Force decontaminates aircraft with hot soapy water, which isn't practical for the interior of an aircraft and has limited effects on anything that absorbs into the paint on the skin of an aircraft. Traditional decontamination solutions used for buildings are highly corrosive to thin aircraft panels and sensitive electronic equipment.

The testing is the result of a collaboration between the Air Force and other agencies. Air Force officials agreed to delay destruction of the already-retired aircraft, while the U.S. Transportation Command is funding the tests and AFRL is providing government and subcontracted engineers and scientists. In addition, the Air Mobility Command is providing subject matter expertise and Little Rock AFB is providing electrical and water hookups near the aircraft, arranging for security to allow around-the-clock access to the site and supplying other on-base resources and personnel.

Once preliminary testing is completed to establish baselines, the entire fuselage will be fully covered with an insulation "blanket." The insulation will be used to keep the interior at a constant temperature. This is especially important in areas next to the aircraft skin where colder evening temperatures, wind and rain reduce interior skin temperatures by several degrees.

The added heat and humidity will be provided using a specifically designed closed-loop system, provided by a contracted organization. The closed-loop system will force the hot and humid air into the forward and aft escape hatches located on top of the aircraft then return the air via the side escape hatch back into the heater and humidifier located on a flatbed trailer next to the aircraft.

To determine the effectiveness of the system, small detection paper will be coated with the environmentally-approved simulated agent and placed throughout the fuselage and then analyzed on site.

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