Airfield damage repair makes the grade
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The Air Force mission is to fly, fight and win, but what happens if we can't fly? During a time of war an enemy's primary target on an air base is its runway, if an air force can't launch or land its aircraft it can't fight.
"The damage done to an airfield by enemy missiles and bombing can [create] craters up to 40 ft. in diameter and as deep as 20 ft.," said Master Sgt. Nicholas Alessi, 51st Civil Engineer Squadron NCO in charge of pavement and construction equipment. "This kind of damage can severely limit or completely incapacitate the ability for aircraft to operate."
This is when the 51st CES comes together to put Osan back into the fight. Alessi explained that "It takes seven different career fields and multiple units from CE to make runway recovery and repair possible.
"First there is the assessing and plotting of damages done by airfield damage assessment teams and the removal of any unexploded ordinances by explosive ordnance disposal teams," he said. "Engineers will then select where the operating strip will be."
Once the site for the operating strip is selected, pavement and construction equipment Airmen, known as the Dirt Boyz, begin repairing the crater. They work to clear the crater of all debris larger than 12 in before bringing in backfill materials, using heavy equipment such as loaders, dump trucks, excavators and graders.
A process called 'spoking,' is used to refill and pack the crater with gravel, dirt and rock. It describes the intricate dance performed by multiple loaders as they move in concert, seamlessly to fill the breach in the pavement. Through a combination of heavy equipment and hand tools, the 'Dirt Boyz' grade and level the backfill until they have accomplished as flat a surface as possible, achieving a zero percent grade.
Airmen perform repair quality criteria checks at different intervals of the operation to make sure imperfections are identified and removed. "[The] checks are performed to make sure that the repair is within the specified tolerances for the aircraft being utilized," said Alessi.
Meanwhile, structures troops layout and piece together a large fiberglass and resin foreign-object debris mat that anchors over the repaired hole.
The combined efforts of structures and the dirt boyz restore operability to the runway while another shop provides an additional safety precaution, a mobile aircraft arresting system.
Airman from the power production shop install the MAAS that uses nylon tapes, reels, chains and sprockets to slow an approaching aircraft's speed so they can safely cross the newly repaired section of runway.
Tech. Sgt. Shawn Miranda, 51st CES NCO in charge of electrical power productions, explained how the MAAS correlates to ADR operations.
"[It] is a critical component of ADR operations enabling pilots to safely stop their aircraft during a myriad of different in-flight emergencies," he said. "I have seen it engaged for hydraulic failure, loss of cabin pressure, slick runway, and aborted take offs; the list goes on. Compare it to the brakes on a bike. If the brakes were missing, you could still operate and pedal the bike, but you would lose a critical capability."
The civil engineering career field can be described as a contingency field; its members are uniquely qualified to participate in man-made or natural disaster-recovery operations. ADR operations demonstrate their ability to conjoin so many different specialties from across the squadron into a single entity to complete the mission.
Although the overall repair time can vary based on the size, complexity and nature of the damage done, the hard working men and women of the 51st CES get the base's airfields up and running again, toiling non-stop to make sure that Osan's airfield is always ready to fight tonight.