Fort Campbell Army Airfield Lights Up with Solar

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Facts & Figures

Project: Solar Runway & Heliport Lighting

Location: Fort Campbell (KY) Army Airfield

Funding: American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

General Contractor: Linc Government Services

Consultant/Manufacturer's Rep: ARC Aviation Renewables Corp.

Manufacturers: Sierra Nevada Corp. (EAGLE solar lighting system) Laser Guidance Inc. (solar LED PAPI)

Of Note: First airfield in the world to install the system; saved $3 million vs. conventional lighting

For eight years, Fort Campbell Army Airfield in Kentucky operated with a single main runway. But late last October, its other 4,500-foot runway (18/36) and 2,500-foot heliport (Destiny 23) reopened with a newly rehabilitated runway and new solar-powered lights.

Larry Lutz, Fort Campbell Army Airfield director of safety, explains that getting 18/36 reopened was always a goal.

"If we had an incident on our main runway, we would need a backup," Lutz says. "Our main runway would also sometimes get saturated with air traffic. Opening 18/36 would ease that situation and make training much easier."

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were made available in late 2009 to rehabilitate 18/36's runway surface and install solar lighting systems on both 18/36 and Destiny 23.

Crews installed 65 solar-powered edge lights on Runway 18/36, including a box-and-one system (one light on each side of the runway and another two lights 500 feet ahead creating a touchdown box). According to the manufacturer, the new system provides non-precision IFR medium-intensity runway lighting for up to 40 hours without solar recharge.

A runway end strobe was also installed during the project.

Going Solar

Cost was a major reason for switching to solar lights, explains Lutz. Installing solar lighting on both 18/36 and Destiny 23 saved more than $3 million compared to installing a conventional lighting system, he reports.

Because the system is not tied into the power grid, asphalt and concrete did not have to be ripped up to lay cable. The new solar-powered lights also provide ongoing environmental advantages.

Allister Wilmott, director at ARC Aviation Renewables Corp., helped design the runway lighting system and represented Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), the manufacturer of the EAGLE solar lighting products. Maintaining the system, Wilmott says, will require little more than keeping the solar panels clean, which should be easy, given Kentucky's moderate weather. Batteries, he adds, should last four to six years in the mild climate and will cost $200 to $250 each to replace.

Ideal for Training

Cost, however, was not the only advantage of opting for solar. The system also offers tremendous flexibility for training flight crews - the primary use for Fort Campbell's runways - says Lutz.

"The nice thing about this system is that you can control the lights individually from the ground or the control tower," he explains. "If we want to set up a particular lighting configuration, we can turn off or on lights to create the situation we wish to mimic for training purposes. This system is an inexpensive way to light our runways while giving us important training capabilities."

Lighting, for instance, can be extinguished with a hand-held controller to simulate landing conditions in an assault zone or covert airstrip location.

"We would not have been able to afford the capabilities this system offers with a conventional lighting system," Lutz emphasizes.

The system can also be switched from standard visible light mode to infrared light mode for use with night vision goggles, a critically important part of pilots' tactical training with helicopters on Destiny 23 and fixed wing box-and-one operations.

Lights on both airfields can be operated with a single controller, and the system can be subdivided into 16 lighting groups, notes Wilmott.

"Destiny Landing Lane can be programmed to Group 1 and Runway 18/36 can be programmed to Group 0," he says, providing an example. "Each group allows for the control and operation of various lighting intensities, visible or infrared outputs, flash characteristics, operating profiles and control characteristics."

One of a Kind - Twice

According to SNC, EAGLE is the only solar airfield light to meet FAA 150/5345-46D intensity and chromaticity requirements, and Fort Campbell is the first airfield in the world to install the system.

A solar Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI), manufactured by Laser Guidance, was also installed on 18/36 during the project. The unique two-box LED PAPI, with visible and infrared capabilities, is also considered to be a worldwide first.

Adaptable & Mobile

The new edge lights at Fort Campbell Airfield each contain an individual solar panel and battery pack. Custom-designed frangible mounts are used so the light unit can fall safely to the ground if struck by lawn mowing equipment or other equipment. The PAPI is powered by a separate frangible solar panel and battery enclosure system.

"The project called for a low-profile design," Wilmott says. "You don't want to have a C-17 clip a solar panel when it's taxiing by or worry about possible damage from jet blast."

Linc Government Services, the general contractor for the project, poured 16-inch diameter concrete pads for the edge lights. It also mounted the fixtures onto the pads and poured concrete pads for the PAPI, supporting solar panel and battery enclosure system.

"The nice thing about these lights," praises Linc Services project manager Chris Spurlin, "is they operate under solar power, but can also be wired if the owner so wishes. If the power went out, the airfield would still have solar lighting capacity."

While Fort Campbell opted for solar-only operation, Lutz is pleased with the system's alternative option. Its mobility is another plus in his book.

"If the lighting on our main runway were to fail," he reasons, "we would have the capability of pulling lights off of 18/36 and Destiny 23 and using them as a backup."

Wilmott enthusiastically promotes Fort Campbell as the first in the world to use the solar-powered runway lighting. "It's a first in the industry and a first in technology that will only get better in the future," he predicts.


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