Press Release

Team reaction averts damage to missile

By SpaceRef Editor
November 25, 2002
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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron and Detachment 9, Space and Missile Systems Center, averted potential damage to a Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile at a launch facility here Nov. 7.

The team had just installed the missile’s second stage and was rewinding the cables used to lower the missile into place. One cable appeared to wind faster than the other causing the sling rods inside the silo to rise at an angle. Sling rods adjoin a ring that actually raise and lower the stage to the hoist cables. The rods had the potential to collide with the missile endangering more than 70,000 pounds of ordnance.

The on-site team found the weather anything but friendly.

The missile transporter erector was suspended in high winds with ordnance in the hole below. Heavy rains and lightening in the area added to the safety problem.

“[It] was the worst conditions you could have here at Vandenberg,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Granczewski, maintenance superintendent.

And, almost like a Hollywood scenario, it was Staff Sgt. Christopher Sergentís first experience as the 576th FLTS Missile Handling Team chief.

“Sergeant Sergent was a bit disappointed that his first dispatch as a team chief was not a smooth one,” said Lt. Col. Michael Fortney, 576th FLTS commander. ìBut like I told him on site, the measure of a team chief is not how he reacts when everything goes right, but how he reacts when things don’t go right.

ìSergeant Sergent and his team handled themselves extremely well.î

Following protocol, Sergent’s team attempted to troubleshoot the problem on site with the existing technical data.

To find a solution, the team formed the Missile Potential Hazard Network, to discuss all options, and decide on a course of action.

The MPH network is a phone conference including 30th Space Wing leadership, members of the 576th FLTS, Det. 9, the Missile Maintenance Operations Center, the ICBM Support Program Office, 20th Air Force and Headquarters Air Force Space Command.

At approximately 2 a.m., after hours of discussion and pages of new technical data were written, the problem was fixed. The transporter erector was safely lowered and the facility secured without incident or injury.

The next day, the sling rods and remaining missile emplacement hardware were removed from the launch facility and the missile was ready to be processed.

“This was not a 576th show,” Fortney was quick to say. “Detachment 9 played a critical role in drafting procedures and getting the emplacement hardware out of the hole without incident, as well as numerous other units within Air Force Space Command.”

Great teamwork across the board made the save possible, Fortney said.

SpaceRef staff editor.