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Aviation depot sets sights on growth

· One of just four Army aviation classification depots in U.S.

· Performs work for nine states, Puerto Rico and U.S.V.I.

· Growth plans call for doubling size of the facility

 

   With 192 full-time and 205 part-time workers and a 140,000 square-foot facility, the Army Nation Guard’s aviation depot is already a big operation in Gulfport. But plans are in the works to make it larger – doubling the size of the facility in anticipation of expected growth.

   The Army National Guard’s 1108th Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot, on the east side of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, does maintenance, repairs and overhaul work on about 350 helicopters each year. Work performed includes airframe and component repair, as well as painting.

   p12-photo-1It’s one of just four AVCRADs operated by the Army National Guard nationwide. The others are in California, Connecticut and Missouri, and each is responsible for work for states in its region.

   “Our main mission is to provide intermediate level and limited depot level maintenance to Army National Guard aircraft throughout the nine Southeastern United States,” as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, said Maj. Andrew Ratcliffe. “We also provide support for the 22 Army Aviation Support Facilities.”

   The AVCRAD also performs work in special projects and deploys to Southwest Asia. In fact, one unique National Guard maintenance task force in Kuwait keeps Army helicopters flying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Task Force AVCRAD includes personnel from all the U.S. AVCRADs, as well as other individuals.

 

Facilities

   The AVCRAD takes up 35 acres at the Trent Lott National Guard Training Complex and is co-located with the Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center. The AVCRAD includes a main hangar, paint hangar, supply warehouse, motor pool, blade/machine shop and engine shop.

   The current $6.5 million facility was built in 1988, but because of an expected increase in personnel, plans are under way to build a facility twice as large with updated features. The estimated cost is $103 million.

   Plans are to begin this project in 2012.

   The 1108th AVCRAD has been in Gulfport since 1971, when it had just six employees. At that time it was called the Transportation Aircraft Repair Shop, but in 1979 was renamed the Mississippi AVCRAD.

   Today the AVCRAD has 192 full-time personnel, 113 of them uniformed, 75 contractors and four state workers. And as a National Guard unit, there is also the influx of those who do not work there full time but kick the number of workers up dramatically. There are 205 uniformed men and women who work at the AVCRAD part-time, one weekend a month, bringing the workforce to 397.

   In calendar year 2008, $60.3 million was spent in wages, allowances and other direct compensation, and the AVCRAD spent an additional $2 million on the new construction of a supply warehouse and an aircraft blade/machine shop building.

   The depot performs work on the OH-58C and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-47 Chinook and the AH-64 Apache.

   A few years ago the AVCRAD took on a major special project when it upgraded and overhauled 22 OH-58 Kiowa helicopters that were used by the National Guard to support the U.S. Border Patrol in Operation Jump Start. In total, three dozen Kiowas were overhauled, but most of the refitting work on the Vietnam-era helicopters was done by the 1108th.

   The aircraft were upgraded with a half-dozen 21st-century law enforcement devices, including better radios, moving maps, radar altimeters, night vision equipment, a two-million candlepower spotlight and higher skids to raise clearance. They were all rewired and fitted with new monitors.

   In fact, the Kiowa scout helicopter introduced in 1968 keeps being reincarnated in the National Guard. The four AVCRADs have managed to get decades more service out of the relatively low-cost Kiowas than the aircrafts’ originally projected 20-year lives. Before Operation Jump Start, the AVCRAD refitted 76 Kiowas for the Army Guard’s Counterdrug Reconnaissance and Interdiction Detachments, the RAID program.

   But the AVCRAD is saying goodbye to one helicopter model that has been a mainstay for the U.S. military. In September the UH-1 Iroquois was retired from the Army inventory. To mark the event, the 1108th AVCRAD scheduled a ceremony in early October 2009 to formally retire the Huey and pay tribute to the Mississippi pilots and crew who flew the helicopter for the Army National Guard.

 

Training

   In addition to all the hands-on work with helicopters, the AVCRAD also provides year round, in-house training for National Guard soldiers from throughout the United States. In the most recent fiscal year, it hosted over 100 soldiers for two-week periods of training.

   The AVCRAD also hosts an annual workshop at the IP Casino every March. This year there were about 250 in attendance, which generated $68,000 for lodging and operational costs. Some attendees bring their families and make this vacation time which generates additional monies for the Gulf Coast.

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