Shrink-wrapping Helicopters

A crew shrink-wraps a Blackhawk.
A crew shrink-wraps a Blackhawk.

There's a lot of activity at the Georgia Ports today, as the Army is packing up heavy equipment, tanks and helicopters for shipment to the Middle East. All morning long, Apache Longbows, Blackhawks, and other helicopters had been landing.

At the port, they're being shrink-wrapped, a process used in Desert Storm also, for the trip by sea to Kuwait.

"It helps immensely, it saves the aircraft from salt water, the spray that comes through occasionally," maintenance officer C.W. 5 Butch Zircolo told us. "It really protects the aircraft in transition."

It takes about an hour and a half to prep each helicopter, disassembling the blades on some and removing parts on others that are too sensitive to wrap. The process requires incredible attention to detail. Once the helicopter is prepped, it will take about two hours to completely shrink-wrap it. It's a big investment in time, but it's a relatively small investment when you consider the Apache's $30 million cost.

"When you think about the price of some of these aircraft and components that could be affected by corrosion, it's relatively a cheap investment to go through this process to save us on the other end," Colonel Rich Knapp said.

Each helicopter is padded with polystyrene to protect it, then wrapped in plastic and heated with a blowtorch to shrink-wrap it to the aircraft.

"These guys do a great job," Zircolo said, "it's just an assembly line."

For the next five days, workers from Lockheed-Martin are going to be working 12 to 14 hours at a time, wrapping as many helicopters as they can. A Navy ship is on its way in to pick up the helicopters along with several vehicles and palettes of equipment on its way to Kuwait.

Reported by: Liz Flynn,