Military News

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Airfield ops never stops

by Senior Airman Keenan Berry
509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

3/16/2015 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- While the B-2 Spirit soars through the skies, the 509th Operations Squadron Airfield Management team scans the ground ensuring it taxis, takes off and lands safely. Supervising the airfields is a full-time job, but the airfield management team is always up to the challenge.

Pilots can perform their tasks with their minds at ease knowing airfield management has done their part. The airfield management crew files flight plans and posts notices to Airmen (NOTAM) for any discrepancies or limitations on the airfields.

Pilots are notified by the NOTAM site of the conditions of the runway prior to boarding their aircraft. They know the proper speed limitations for their aircraft while inbound, out bound and taxiing.

"Whenever sheets of ice result from freezing rain or snow, we will use the runway condition reading system to tell us how slick the airfield pavement is," said Tech Sgt. John Leach, 509th Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of airfield management. "This is important because we do not want an aircraft operating on slick pavement, chancing any damage or hindrance to the mission. We are looking for numbers that let the aircraft commander know what kind of breaking action they need to do. If we have a low number on ice, they will taxi slower so they can stop without hitting anything."

Along with ensuring runway conditions are serviceable, airfield management scans the skies and runways for wildlife activity to ensure they do not interfere with the mission.
Another potential threat to aircraft are bird strikes. Bird strikes are caused when aircraft make contact with large flocks of birds which can result in severe damage.

"With our bird and wildlife aircraft strike hazard (BASH) program, we keep an eye out for any wildlife that trespasses onto the airfield," said Airman 1st Class Cody Nelson, 509th OSS airfield management operations coordinator. "If there are any birds posing a potential flight threat, we manage that by the use of pyro pistols and BASH cannons to ward them off. We use the pyro pistol 150 feet out from where the birds are and fire a pyrotechnic in the air to scare them off."

Airfield management keeps a log of all wildlife spotted on the airfield. They also work with the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron to ensure the grass is maintained between 7-14 inches to prevent birds from nesting and feeding in the area.

"We inspect the airfields daily for factors, such as grass heights and ponding (resulting from rain), that will attract birds or other wildlife," Leach said. "Once we find these attractants, we report them to the CES for mitigation. We work with the United States Department of Agriculture to find new ways from other bases for bird mitigation. For instance, polyvinyl chloride piping or spikes have been put in place throughout hangars where bird nesting occurs."

Airfield management also inspects the airfields for spalls, which are cracks in the ground containing foreign object debris (FOD) capable of causing significant damage. Spalls are caused by erosion, aircraft and vehicles.

"We work hand-in- hand with the CES to gather FOD off the airfield to avoid damage to the aircraft," Nelson said. "It's important to clear the areas of FOD to prevent aircraft from ingesting gravel or rocks into the engine, causing any malfunctions."

It's a full-time job trying to maintain the airfields, but with a steadfast and dedicated attitude, the airfield management team gets the job done.

"I enjoy day-to-day operations, meetings and taking care of my Airmen," said Leach. "These factors are key to the mission because at the end of the day, our main responsibility is ensuring the airfields are safe for the pilots to perform their duties."

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