WMU News

WMU's 747 making final contribution in Air Guard drills

Aug. 9, 2004

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--After more than four years of service to Western Michigan University's College of Aviation, as well as a variety of state and federal agencies, the University's Boeing 747 is spending its final days in Battle Creek giving its all in service to the cause of crash recovery and rescue.

The 747, donated to the college by Northwest Airlines in February 2000, is slated for demolition, starting Thursday, Aug. 12. Before that happens, the massive aircraft, which has become a fixture in the Battle Creek skyline, is being used for a series of drills by the 110th Civil Engineering Squadron, commonly called the "Crash, Fire and Rescue Squad," of the Air National Guard stationed in Battle Creek.

"We made the decision earlier this summer that it was time for the plane to be demolished and sold for scrap," says WMU Aviation Dean Rick Maloney. "But we wanted to ensure we were able to wring every last useful moment from its presence on campus before we let it go.

"We're delighted that the air guard teams are able to use the plane to test their procedures and equipment in a way they've never been able to before."

With FAA approval, the plane will be moved this week from its current fixed position near the college's main hangar to a position across the airfield where it will be demolished. During the planning, a series of drills with the Air Guard have allowed the teams a real-world venue to practice the procedures they would use in the event of an aviation emergency. A total of six drills will be completed early this week, with the last devoted to a process teams rarely have an opportunity to use in practice.

Air Guard spokesman Maj. Robert Decoster says the Crash Fire and Rescue Squad is eager to practice with a probe that punctures the fuselage of a crashed plane and deposits a layer of flame-fighting foam in the plane's interior. Earlier drills with other aircraft have always stopped short of puncturing the fuselage, because the move effectively renders the aircraft useless.

The 747 landed at Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport Feb. 4, 2000, and was welcomed by a gala crowd, including Northwest Airlines officials in town to turn the retired aircraft over to the University for use primarily in its maintenance technology programs.

The plane has been used over the years since then to give students a hands-on look at a number of important operating systems. In recent years, the 747 has played an increasingly important role as the site of drills by the U.S. Weapons of Mass Destruction team housed at Ft. Custer as well as state emergency response teams.

Maloney expects the college to remain in the business of offering such teams a place to hold drills and conduct research. He's in the process of lining up a smaller, replacement aircraft to be used for that work. Maloney says the new plane will offer more flexibility in drill planning, because it will be easily moved to spots around the airport to fit the needs of each drill developed.

For more information about the 747's final days, contact Capt. Steve Jones, director of safety and simulations for the college, at (269) 964-9336.

Media contact: Thom Myers, 269 387-8400, thom.myers@wmich.edu

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