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509 CES completes major runway light system modifications

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Justin Weber
  • 509th Civil Engineer Squadron

Temporarily shortening any base’s runway length in conjunction with runway repair work is no laidback feat, it takes a comprehensive coordination and execution effort. This is the circumstance that the Airmen at the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, found themselves having to overcome. Whiteman AFB is home to the B-2 Spirit, a multi-role bomber that’s mission is to penetrate undetected into enemy airspace and strategically deliver a conventional or nuclear payload. Whiteman AFB is the sole operational power projection platform for this airframe.

The 509th Civil Engineer Squadron led and completed an extensive 4-week coordination and work effort to identify, set up, and execute a displaced runway threshold and an installation of a temporary Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPIs) system. The need to do this work was to allow full depth slab replacement of 14 concrete slabs on the runway. This $1.5M contracted repair project would have had required the base’s single runway to be closed for several weeks during demolition and replacement of the slabs and then for possibly several months while the concrete cures. Displacing the threshold enabled the contractors to work on the runway in a safe zone, while allowing Whiteman AFB to continue normal airfield operations on a slightly shorter runway. Additionally, this safeguarded the 509th Bomb Wing’s critical mission to execute nuclear operations and global strike ... anytime, anywhere.

One of the initial steps was to identify where the runway threshold would be required to be displaced to. 509th CES worked meticulously with Airfield Management Operations, Wing Safety, and 509 Bomb Wing leadership to determine the total displacement length. After looking at several factors including approach angles, construction site boundaries, and the height of construction equipment to be used, a displacement of 1,400 feet was agreed upon. Inside the construction zone, any lighting system component not required to be active was ultimately turned off and/or modified to reflect the temporary runway length. The 509th CES Electric Shop Airmen repositioned the distance-to-go markers to accurately reflect runway length, shutdown the existing PAPIs system, and isolated 73 runway end/threshold lights from their circuits so that the lights were not actively on.

With the displaced threshold established and all existing runway lighting components modified to reflect the displaced threshold, the location for the temporary PAPIs system could then be identified and installation could begin.

The PAPI system is one of the significant visual aide components of the airfield lighting system. Consisting of four lightboxes on both ends of the runway and arranged perpendicular to the edge of the runway, the PAPIs system projects a pattern of red and white lights to provide pilots guidance information to acquire and maintain the optimal approach (in the vertical plane) for a safe touchdown. Additionally, these lights are located on both ends of the runway to allow for either direction of landing.

Tony Morris, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron Electric Shop High Voltage Electrician, directed the installation of the temporary PAPIs system structure. Morris led the way with his clear vision, thorough planning, and experienced fabrication of the frangible base structure that the temporary PAPIs were later mounted onto. His keen vision and problem-solving permitted for the bases to be set at a level plane, despite the slope or grade of the infield grass area, while also meeting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Air Force guidance for frangibility. Morris self-fabricated the Unistrut system, which was rigid enough to support the PAPI light boxes, while also being quick to install and set-up. Without the incredible expertise and initiative of Morris, the base would have needed to procure a temporary PAPIs materials and installation kit, ultimately costing supplementary funds that the base did not have the means to supply.

509th Civil Engineers from the Electric Shop continued their normal daily work tasks to sustain the base, while simultaneously also maneuvering manpower over to several different crews for the PAPIs installation. The power cable trenching and fabrication of the frangible PAPI base took approximately two weeks of steadfast work, while the setup of the temporary PAPIs took another one week. 509th CES Electric Shop supplied dedicated crews that triple checked the placement, installation, and alignment of the temporary PAPIs system. The Electric Shop also took this optimal opportunity to level and accurately aim all the elevated runway lights along the full 12,400-foot runway. These lights provide a clear length and width view of the runway for approaching aircraft without light glair in the pilot’s eyes.

This effort marks the third time since 2008 that the 509th CES has displaced the runway threshold to allow for major runway construction to be undertaken, in addition to conserving the B-2 and other assigned aircraft’s missions to continue without interruption to their operations. The continued sustainment of a runway and its infrastructure is ultimately CE’s first priority to ensuring the success of any mission. As showcased, the devoted engineers at Whiteman AFB achieved a monstrous achievement, make necessary repairs to their power projection platform, while also ensuring mission endurance.