Beale Battery Shop

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Frederick Brown
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Environmental and Electrical (E&E) Airmen are responsible for the maintenance and repair of aircraft power systems, while ensuring aircrew life support systems function properly. Just like maintainers, E&E Airmen may work as a technician on the flightline, or as specialists in the back shops focusing on inspections and major maintenance tasks unique to their skillset.

Among the many shops with specialized functions, there is one dedicated for the creation and maintenance of batteries. Just like a car, aircraft cannot operate without electrical systems, and those electrical systems have no power without batteries.

The 9th Maintenance Squadron (9th MXS) E&E battery shop is responsible for the maintenance of the U-2 Dragon Lady’s emergency and utility batteries, and the T-38 Talon’s battery. The U-2’s utility battery, and the T-38’s battery, are used for regular operation, while the U-2’s emergency battery is the last source of power available during an emergency.

“Beale is the home base of the U-2, so we have a much greater demand for batteries to support the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing,” said Staff Sgt. Mary Daria, 9th MXS E&E craftsmen. “We provide forward operating bases with mission support requirements as needed, which means maintaining batteries for Beale and supporting requests from overseas locations.”

There are about 64 airframes in the U.S. Air Force inventory, but the U-2 is the only one that uses the silver zinc/potassium hydroxide battery, which requires intensive maintenance compared to types used by other aircraft. For a part that is integral to the operation of these airframes, attention to detail is key to the pilot’s safe return home, the goal of every aircraft maintainer.

“My priority is to make sure the pilots come home to their families no matter what sacrifices we have to make here while working in the safest way possible,” said Theodore Cochran, 9th MXS lead battery technician. “If everyone takes that attitude and values getting the job done to the highest standards, that leads to the highest quality workmanship, then aircraft are safer to fly, last longer, and the Airmen can take pride in what they do.”

The U-2’s utility battery maintenance consists of a six-month capacity check and a one-year end of service life discharge and disposal, while the emergency battery consists of a 42-day capacity check for serviceability and a rebuild with fresh cells every 10 months. New T-38 batteries are taken and inspected for serviceability with a voltage check to ensure they meet technical data requirement, and an end of service life discharge and disposal is performed after three years of service.

Air Force battery shops have undergone change and innovation over the years as the current Automated Battery Management system (ABMS-X) took 12 and a half years to be developed, tested, and implemented in the field. The ABMS-X charging system automates many of the processes from the old system which has led to an increase of speed and quality.

Despite issues such as manning, funding and supplies, the Beale battery shop continues to meet demands, building around 32 emergency batteries each year. No matter what, the Air Force continues to accomplish its national defense mission through persistent hard work and continuous innovation.