Ground game

There’s a great television program recently produced and airing in re-broadcasts from time to time that you might want to check out. It focuses on the amazing skill of a group of Boeing employees known as the Airplane On Ground (AOG) Operations team.

These are the people who do whatever it takes to keep airplanes flying around the world – or more to the point, get them off the ground and back up in the air. An airplane “on ground” isn’t making any revenue. So it’s vital to get it back into service as quickly (and safely) as humanly possible.

The TV program is the work of the National Geographic Channel, a U.S. based cable network, which is also seen in many countries around the world. It’s part of a series called “World’s Toughest Fixes.” Check out their Web site for the next time you can see the episode titled “Boeing 767.”

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A National Geographic TV crew was on hand for an AOG operation involving a 767-300 that inadvertently backed into a blast fence. (Photo courtesy of Olivier Corneloup)

The incident pictured above took place on Christmas Eve last year at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. The airplane sustained some major damage to the tail section. The National Geographic program’s producers chronicled the entire project from start to finish. You can check out some clips from the program here.

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From incident to finished product, some views of a Boeing AOG “tough fix” at Charles de Gaulle Airport, working to get a 767-300 back off the ground.

Among other things, the 767’s vertical fin and the entire aft section had to be removed so crews could get to the damaged pressure dome and install a new one. Then the whole section had to be put back to together again. Working 12-hours shifts, a team of 37 Boeing AOG specialists completed the repair in 20 days!

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The AOG team on the scene in Paris.

This particular operation was thoroughly documented. Check out a very detailed article in Air and Space, which also has a lot of background about Boeing’s AOG team and its everyday unique challenges. Boeing’s Frontiers magazine also gives AOG some in-depth coverage.

I love this one quote from the piece: “There’s nothing else like fixing a broken airplane, giving it back to the customer and watching it fly away. We can fix just about anything.”

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“We can fix just about anything.”

As is well pointed out in all the stories, the AOG team is on call 24 hours a day, and they seem to have an almost magic way of doing whatever it takes anywhere on the globe to transform a repair site into a temporary Boeing factory to restore a disabled airplane to flight-worthy shape.

Case in point, in 1988 a 747 ran off the runway in New Delhi and plowed through 1,000 yards of thick mud before coming to a stop. As you can imagine, most of the airplane needed repair or replacement. It took more than 100 AOG team members and three-months of effort to get the job done. At one point they even placed a huge tent over the airplane to shield the operation from tropical downpours, not to mention bugs, heat and .. you get the idea.

All in a day’s (or three months’) work for AOG, I suppose.

Finally, take a look at a Boeing video we made around the Paris AOG operation. It’s a fun variation on the PTQ, or Put Together Quickly videos we sometimes produce. This one is called “Put Back Together Quickly.”

As a (very) frequent traveler, I for one am glad to know this team is out there when we need them. Makes you realize that to keep our airplanes flying, it sometimes takes a good ground game!

Comments (7)

Gordon Werner (Seattle, WA):

I saw this a month ago when it aired on NatGeo HD ... quite impressive feat to repair an already built plane that was damaged in such a manner.

Kudos to the Boeing employees who were more than up to the task.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

Though I haven't seen the episode, I look forward to seeing a repeat of the program, I did see a preview some time ago. NatGeo has a lot of good programming.

Chris C (South Africa):

Strange enough, just last night in the hotel room, I switched to National Geographic channel right at the start of this very interesting programme on AOG Boeing’s fix of the 767-300ER.

Very fortuitous, and then today when I checked the updates on the journal, I couldn’t believe that there was a whole entry on the said subject! It looks a very interesting, tiring, stressful job, yet very rewarding. Those guys of AOG certainly looked like a great team of guys that had much pride in their work.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

My co-worker watched it about a month ago on satellite. Didn't know it was a Boeing team out there. Kudos for that. Reminds me of that 747-200 that went through a similar process - I believe it's owned by a North East Asian airline - and still flies today! That's a pretty good team - or integral part of the Boeing after market support.

martin nix (everett, wa):

Here is a new type of tanker. To fight global warming a 747 or 767 can be retrofited to spray finely misted salt brine. The additional salt brine sprayed over the arctic and antarctic might help reflect enough sunlight away from earth to help to stop the melting of arctic/antarctic ice.

This new tanker would be powered by biojet fuels made from algae, fish oil, weeds or some other type of CO2 neutral fuel. A fleet of these could also help reduce the power of hurricanes, by reducing the amount of solar energy. The down side is it will reduce sunlight reaching earth, which may reduce agriculture. An idea worth exploring. It may or may not work, but the potential to help modify climate change is worth investigating.

Dave McCauley (Everett Wa):

My hats off to these guys. They can repair anything. Part of selling a airplane is the knowledge that there are people behind it who can repair it. Thanks to them, this possible.

Franz Anthofer (Germany ):

Boeing 787 und 747-8 is Master of Disaster in Seattle.

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