On Sunday, January 17, 2016, Sailors from Patrol Squadron (VP) 9 could be seen at the plane wash rack at Naval Air Station Sigonella, despite the chilly weather and rainy conditions. Sporting rubber gloves and boots, their face masks and parkas shielding them from the elements, they did their part to prevent aircraft corrosion by giving the squadron’s P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft a proper plane wash.
According to NAVAIR 01-1A-509-1 “The two most important factors in preventing corrosion, and the only ones which can be controlled by field personnel, are the removal of the electrolyte and the application of protective coatings. Since the extent of corrosion depends on the length of time electrolytes are in contact with metals, aircraft corrosion can be minimized by frequent washing.”
Corrosion is a big deal for the P-3 community, the planes are constantly exposed to corrosive elements such as changes in temperature and pressure, varying humidity levels because of their missions everywhere from Africa to Iceland, dust, dirt, ultraviolet light from the specialized sonobouy receptors needed for submarine warfare, and other environmental concerns.
“When we clean the plane we can inspect it better for any chipped paint, missing paint, scratches, dings, dents, corrosion,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic Second Class David Orlowicz. “Every 91 days, rain or shine, we have to get out there and give the plane a scrub down.”
Washing itself involves numerous steps and procedures. The Navy’s Corrosion Program provides an overall instruction, but each command also has their own procedures “You move the plane to the wash rack,” said Orlowicz. “You pre-grease it to pump out all the old grimy dirty grease, and you start washing. You use a special soap called turco”
Turco comes in an array of types, from very dirty planes to average dirty planes. VP-9 uses type 4, a solution considered normal range.
“You have to mix it in your water solution a certain way,” said Orlowicz. “Dilute it to accomplish whatever you’re cleaning. So if you’re cleaning the skin of the aircraft you need a certain solution, if you’re cleaning landing gear or flaps you need a certain solution. Then you wet down the plane and its like washing a car. You just clean. Afterwards, we grease and inspect and she’s ready to go fly again.”