Fairchild Air Force Base Reconstructs Sole Runway

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

When the sole runway at Fairchild Air Force Base exhibited signs of excessive deterioration, civil engineers recommended shutting down the landing surface for complete reconstruction. The decision was pivotal, as Fairchild's airfield (SKA) is home to the 141st Washington Air National Guard Refueling Wing and the 92nd Air Refueling Wing (part of the Air Mobility Command) - groups that provide core aerial refueling activities for the U.S. Air Force. In essence, they maintain an air bridge across the nation and world to support U.S. and allied forces.

According to Stanley Duda, 92nd civil engineer squadron project manager, the Air Mobility Command recognized that it was time to replace SKA's 40+ year-old runway. "We were replacing concrete slabs on a yearly basis, and the expense curve was getting pretty steep," Duda relates. "We had FOD (foreign object debris) issues and deterioration resulting from ASR (alkali-silica reaction)."

Constructing a new runway on a single-runway airfield, however, is far easier said than done. Approximately 1,300 airmen and civilians from the 92nd and 141st refueling wings had to be temporarily relocated to remote sites at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, WA, and Spokane International Airport during the project.







Project: Runway Reconstruction

Location: Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, WA

Cost: $47.8 million

Original Estimate: $73 million

Prime Consultant/Environmental Coordination: Advent Environmental

Lead Engineering & Design Consultant: Atkins North America

General Contractor: AECOM

Construction Management: Applied Research Associates

Pavement Design: Tigerbrain Engineering

Navaid Design: Burns Engineering

Airfield Lighting Systems: ADB Airfield Solutions

Transformers: Integro

Concrete Paving: Gary Merlino Construction

Demolition, Storm Sewer, Grading & Paving: ICON Materials

Airfield Electric: Royal Electric

Approach Lighting & Navaids: J. Schouten Construction

Connector Kits & Transformers: Integro

Quality Control: Budinger & Associates

Security: State Protection Services

Site Layout: Century Survey

Noteworthy Details: Runway was demolished & replaced in one construction season; project cost more than $25 million less than the original estimate

Operating with personnel as far as two hours away presented a challenge for Fairchild Air Force Base and its mission. "It was very costly to be out there (in Moses Lake)," Duda recalls, explaining that the Air Force rented community college dorms and bussed Fairchild personnel back and forth. "It was very important for us to get this project completed in a single February to November construction season," he notes.

Tight Schedule

As lead engineering and design consultant for the project, Atkins North America was on the hook to get the project done before winter hit the Spokane area. General contractor AECOM shared the consultant's pressure.

The tight production schedule was very challenging, recalls Scott Lawrence, AECOM project manager. Having full access to the airfield and not having to work around aircraft traffic helped the cause, he notes. Sourcing asphalt from a plant just five miles away and running a batch plant right on the runway also helped expedite the project, adds Lawrence.

Using an extra-wide paver to lay the four-lane 150-foot-wide runway shaved time from the schedule as well. With the production plant onsite, contractors were able to transfer concrete material more quickly to keep up with the paver and to ensure quality control.

The production schedule estimate for 18.25-foot paving lanes was approximately 1,800 cubic yards per day, with additional time needed for concrete curing and dowel bar installation between each lane. By paving lanes at a width of 37.5 feet, then making a saw cut down the center, the contractor eliminated the additional curing and dowel bar installation time between each pour. Production rates consequently averaged approximately 2,500 cubic yards per day.

The paving contractor also used a stringless guidance system to place the graded crushed aggregate base course, which saved money by allowing more time for production and requiring less time for surveying and checking grade level. Using the GPS-based system also allowed operators to work faster with minimal supervision - even in dusty, foggy and dark conditions.

While the original production rate estimate for a string and stake system was 1,000 tons per day, the stringless system averaged 1,800 tons per day.

Recycling the Old

Prior to reconstruction, Runway 5-23 was approximately 13,900 feet long, with 1,000-foot paved overruns on each end, and 200 feet wide, with 50 feet of asphalt on each side. Originally, it was designed to accommodate B-17, B-29 and B-52 aircraft. But when the last B-52 left Fairchild in 1994, the base became home to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and its 37 KC-135R Stratotankers.

To accommodate the new fleet and a proposed refueling tanker based on the Boeing 767 aircraft platform, the new runway's width was reduced to the Air Mobility Command standard of 150 feet of full-strength concrete pavement flanked by 25-foot asphalt shoulders. Paved overruns are now 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide. Portions of the connector taxiways have also been replaced.

To meet the Department of Defense's environmental sustainability goals, Atkins maximized use of crushed concrete and asphalt millings as base materials in the new runway. Approximately 146,000 tons of concrete and 4,400 tons of asphalt millings were recycled as aggregate base material.

"Roughly 60% of the old concrete was recycled into the new runway," reports Atkins engineer of record Dave Schilling. "An additional 87,000 tons of concrete and 63,000 tons of asphalt millings were salvaged by a local construction company for use on other projects."

The old runway's ASR problems demanded that precautions be taken with the recycled concrete. The infected concrete could not be used as base material under the runway surface, explains Atkins senior project engineer Chris Holmes, but it could be used as aggregate base under the shoulder and overrun pavements.

New aggregate for the runway's Portland cement concrete surfaces were prescreened. As part of the design, local aggregate was tested to determine whether it would meet the latest Department of Defense's paving specifications.

"Just because an aggregate tested positive for ASR, however, did not mean it was eliminated," notes Holmes. "Methods such as adding fly ash could be used to mitigate the ASR. We were very sensitive to this issue."

The entire runway and taxiway electrical system was also replaced with new cable, approach lighting, edge lighting, center lighting, touchdown lighting and airfield signage. The airfield lighting control and monitoring system was replaced, and the airfield lighting vault was expanded to handle the new equipment. Navaids were either relocated or replaced.

Beating Projections

SKA's new Runway 5-23 was completed on time in November 2011 at a total cost of $47.8 million - significantly less than the government's initial cost estimate of $73 million.

"The way all the team players worked together throughout this project was the key to completing this project on time," says Wayne Musselwhite, Fairchild's chief of construction management. "We had people from all over the country, as well as Mexico and Canada, working on this runway, so you could say the economic impact was global. It was an immense, but ultimately rewarding, project."

The American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee appears to agree. In March, the group recognized Atkins' work on Runway 5-23 with a Grand Award for transportation projects.


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