by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs
11/20/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Alaska's
weather brings all kinds of perils to motorists. When the snow first
came this year, road conditions put more than 80 cars in the ditches
around Anchorage after just one day of snowfall.
The risks are real - and even more so when they endanger military aircraft.
That's why the Airfield Management Flight is on the runway all day doing
brake checks, said Senior Airman Jerred Johnson, an Airfield Management
operations supervisor with the 3rd Operations Support Squadron.
"We get up to a speed of 20 to 30 miles an hour, and we stomp on the
brakes to induce a skid; then the decelerometer kicks out a number: our
friction reading," Johnson said. "We combine our friction measurement
with our surface condition to get the road condition reading."
A decelerometer is a device in their trucks that allows them to judge
how long it takes to stop. After performing a series of complex
mathematics, the device condenses this information into a friction
"We give that to the pilots and - based on their training orders and
that measurement - they determine if they are able to taxi and take
off," Johnson said.
While being employed by the military to brake-check the snow-covered
flightline over and over again throughout the day may sound like a
care-free joy ride in a government vehicle, it is anything but.
"You need to know what all your priorities are, what time is this
aircraft taking off, what parking spot is it on, what's its taxi route,
what are its minimums, and keep an eye on the weather - is it going to
start snowing in the next 30 minutes?" Johnson said. "If so, those F-22
[Raptors] that are in the air may have to divert to a different location
if we can't keep the runway conditions within their minimum."
Because each aircraft has different features, landing gear and weight,
each aircraft also has a different tolerance for surface conditions on
"Every aircraft in their training order has a set number that says it
can take off with a certain runway condition, which are expressed as
numbers," Johnson said. "A C-17 [Globemaster III] has reverse thrust, so
its number might be lower, versus a fighter aircraft that needs a
higher number to land because he's coming in a lot faster and doesn't
have reverse thrust."
By establishing a measurable value to surface conditions, the airfield
management team is able to quickly and efficiently determine which
aircraft can use the flightline safely and where. This is further
complicated by the fact the runway is actually composed of different
types of pavement.
One runway has concrete on one end, but asphalt on the other. The
concrete is going to be slicker than the asphalt, but both need to be
within a certain aircraft's minimum friction measurement to allow for a
To ensure this happens, the runway is constantly maintained to the
highest safety standards, and the airfield management flight coordinates
which sections need attention and when.
"All the asphalt and concrete is grooved to help with friction, and
every year the Air Force Flight Standards Agency comes out and does a
friction evaluation of the runway," Johnson said. "We work in
conjunction with the snow removal teams. We let them know what
priorities certain areas are, what time aircraft are taking off, and
what their taxi route is."
Much like the air traffic controllers have a tower they use to
coordinate the direction of aircraft coming and going on the flightline,
the airfield management team coordinates ground efforts to make sure
the right runways are ready at the right time.
"Our first priority is ensuring the runway numbers are constantly kept
up to the minimum for the Combat Alert Cell so they can launch, the
[Airborne Warning And Control Systems] can launch, and our rescue
aircraft can take off at any time," Johnson said.
On a normal day, two Airmen coordinate more than 70 civil engineer
troops all around the flightline while planes come and go, each with
their own unique runway requirements.
"Usually the operations supervisor is out doing the skid checks, and the
operations coordinator is the one inside answering phones, plugging the
information in, maintaining logs, taking requests. All snow removal
requests for the airfield are coordinated through us, so we can
prioritize them," Johnson explained. "Otherwise everyone will just be
calling roads and ground and saying 'we need this' and 'we need that.'
It would be a nightmare."
Every plane that takes off or lands safely is a testament to these
Airmen's dedication to excellence, but there can always be improvement.
This holiday season, the Air Force is going to bring them some new toys.
"We're getting everything set up to be wireless-capable; there's going
to be an antenna on the truck and an antenna on this building and it's
going to automatically update on a stand-alone computer and the tower
will be able to get those numbers real-time," Johnson said.
Currently, they write down all their measurements and update a variety
of different databases, which the tower then taps into to get the
friction measurements the pilots need to determine their safety while
taxiing or inbound to land, Johnson said.
"We used to use an older decelerometer, and we just got some new ones
which are definitely state of the art," Johnson said. "It's the only one
I know of that's capable of doing the wireless transmissions."
The new equipment is another example of innovation applied across the Air Force to make the mission more efficient.
"Those numbers are crucial. We may have to take off very quickly, and
that information is important, because in 15 minutes, the weather can
change completely," said Air Force Capt. Robert Crespo, chief of
squadron training at the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron. "Those 15
minutes can determine whether we are grounded or taking off."
"No aircraft can fly without first getting a friction measurement," Johnson said. "Without that, nobody flies."