Runway Rehab Benefits Military & Civilian Traffic

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

Airmen and civilians flying aircraft into Joint Base Charleston via Runway 15-33 have had smoother landings since the rehabilitated runway opened in August. The main 9,000-foot runway, owned by the U.S. Air Force, serves both the 437th Airlift Wing and Charleston International Airport (CHS).






Project: Runway Reconstruction

Location: Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina

Owner: U.S. Air Force

Runway: 15-33

Size: 9,000 ft. long; 150 ft. wide, with 25-foot paved shoulders

Cost: $44 million

Contract Management: Air Force Civil Engineer Center

Contractor: DWG & Associates

Light Installation: Atlantic Electric

Lighting: ADB Airfield Solutions

Arresting System Installation: HMI (Home Menders Inc.)

Portland Cement Concrete: Anthony Allega Cement Contractors

Asphalt Shoulder & Overrun Installation: Banks

Dirt Work/Civil Contractor: Gulfstream

Airfield Markings: Peek Pavement Markings; Falcon UHP

Saw Cutting & Joint Seal: Swank

Landscaping: Herndon

Cast-in-Place Pipe: Insituform

Survey: Parker

Quality Control Testing: WPC

Title II Quality Assurance Inspection Services: Atkins

Fence: Manner Building Supply

Key Improvements: Portland cement concrete runway surface, taxiway airfield lighting, infrastructure for navigational aids, fighter aircraft arresting system, asphalt shoulders and overruns

Reconstruction Timeline: mid-June 2012 - late July 2013 Challenges Overcome: Construction occurred during one of the wettest years on record

The 437th Airlift Wing trains and executes the only C-17A special operations capability in the Air Force. With a maximum load of 170,900 pounds, the C-17 can carry two large buses, three helicopters, one of the Army's newest tanks or a variety of other oversized cargo. Last year, Joint Base Charleston executed more than 2,700 C-17 missions.

CHS services nearly 3,900 arriving and departing commercial flights per month and accommodates more than 2.5 million passengers each year - and volume is growing, notes John Connell, P.E., deputy director of engineering and planning for the airport. The runway improvements support the growing Charleston community and local private industry, including Boeing South Carolina, which manufactures the 787 Dreamliner.

"The runway is a vital link in a growing economic engine for the Charleston region and for South Carolina," says Connell.

Joint Base Charleston shares its two runways through what CHS officials say is the longest running civilian/military joint use agreement of its kind with the Department of Defense - a unique relationship the airport appreciates, notes Connell.

"We are fortunate to have use of a brand new runway," he acknowledges.

The runway's new surface consists of 150-foot wide Portland cement concrete designed for modified heavy traffic, and 25-foot asphalt shoulders and overruns. In addition to a new surface, the $44.4 million Air Force-funded project provided high-efficiency LED lighting, an improved aircraft arresting system and taxiway reconstruction.

Rob Crossland, a pavements engineer with the Air Force's 628th Civil Engineer Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, says the rehabilitation was necessary because the old runway was nearing the end of its useful life.

The aging, 9,000-foot long, 200-foot-wide concrete runway had miles of cracked slabs, hundreds of spall repairs and weight restrictions on several pavement features. Required maintenance was constant and, spot repairs no longer sufficed, Crossland reports.

In an Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) news release, Mark Dent, AFCEC project manager, said runways are designed based on mission requirements to have a 50-year lifespan, with increased maintenance requirements after 20 years. Portions of the old Charleston runway dated back to the 1940s.

"We replaced the runway before it became a danger," says Lt. Col. Matthew Leard, commander of the 437th Operations Support Squadron. "There were cracking issues and FOD (foreign objects and debris) concerns, but we took action before it went any further."

The previous runway lacked paved shoulders and runway end lights, and had 1950s vintage lights with no available replacement parts, adds Crossland.

Project Mission

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida managed the runway project contract. It is the ninth runway contract that AFCEC engineers executed in seven years.

The general contractor for the Charleston project was DWG & Associates, a disabled veteran-owned small business.

Up to 18 inches of concrete was ripped out and replaced on about 9,000 feet of the runway's landing and take-off strip. The new 18-inch-thick concrete pavement was fitted with a cement-stabilized drainage layer, aggregate separation and subsurface collection system. Concrete from the old runway was crushed and used in the separation layer.

With multiple entities involved on the project - AFCEC, the joint base, airport authority, airport, FAA and various subcontractors - communication was No. 1, notes Chris Antosiak, project manager with contractor DWG & Associates. Overall weekly meetings included 20 to 50 people; additional weekly subcontractor meetings had fewer people.

The project required 355,000 labor-hours and was accomplished without accidents or incidents.

While the runway was being replaced, about 130 commercial flights and 25 Air Force flights were diverted to a shorter, secondary runway (Runway 03-21).

"Communication between the Aviation Authority and the Air Force was essential for a project this size," relates Connell. "CHS has a great, long-standing working relationship with Joint Base Charleston. That relationship, combined with regular communication as construction progressed, was an important part of ensuring that normal airport operations were not disrupted and that our six commercial airlines and their ground crews were able to continue to operate efficiently."

Night work was required for 45 days. When the active runway was shut down between midnight and 5 a.m., crews worked at the intersection of the two runways.

In one night, workers would break up old concrete, remove it, put down 6 inches of separation layer, and replace as much concrete as they could. Crane mats (4 feet by 20 feet) were used to cover areas that couldn't be paved to ready them by 5 a.m.

Practice runs were performed to see how the mats would fit into a space.

Although time was of the essence, Antosiak notes, "Our biggest priority was safety."

During 13 months of construction, more than 5 feet of rain fell on the project site and caused nearly 60 days of delays.

More Project Highlights

The improved runway features include an uncommon arresting system and LED lighting, which is becoming increasingly common.

Previously, the runway had a fighter aircraft arresting system to stop aircraft experiencing mechanical issues. The new arresting system, installed by HMI (Home Menders Inc.), has an arresting cable that is raised and lowered remotely, and remains recessed when not in use. The recessed cable extends the life of the runway, because it doesn't slap against the concrete when it's not in use, explains Lt. Col. Pat Miller, 628th Civil Engineer Squadron commander.

The Air Force owns the lighting/NAVAIDS for the runway (except the approach lighting systems and instrument landing systems, which are owned by the FAA). Atlantic Electric installed LED in-pavement lighting from ADB Airfield Solutions for the runway centerline and touchdown zone lights.

Brian Nettles, Atlantic Electric project manager, reports that LED lighting is becoming more and more common.

At Joint Base Charleston, LEDs will significantly reduce maintenance costs and periodic replacement expenses, says Dent. While the old halogen lamps were rated for up to 6,000 hours of practical use, the LED lamps have an estimated life of 150,000 hours under practical use.

A Joint Effort

Getting the FAA and airport authority involved early in the design and review process was key to the success of the project, reflects Crossland. "In the end, the contractor provided a quality product that will serve the Air Force and community for years to come," he adds, noting that construction occurred during one of the wettest years on record.

With other improvements in the works, it's an exciting time at CHS. "We are in the early stages of a $189 million Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program that will modernize the nearly 30-year-old airport, creating a travel experience that is pleasant, efficient and sophisticated," says Connell. "Over the next two years, the airport will expand one of its concourses, build five new gates, modernize its baggage handling systems, create a consolidated security screening checkpoint, upgrade airline check-in stations and welcome a variety of retail stores, pubs and restaurants."

The "Talcum Powder Effect"

Lessons learned after the 2010 rehabilitation of Joint Base Charleston's Runway 03-21 and the paving of other concrete runways were applied to the recent rehabilitation of Runway 15-33.

New concrete runways produce what Jamey Kempson calls the "talcum powder effect." The airport maintenance and NAVAID engineer with the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission coined the term after an airport manager told him that a year or so after runway paving, a lot of dust would kick up when aircraft landed  - even after a heavy rain.

Tim Neubert, president of Neubert Aero Corp., explains that the purpose of the concrete powder material is to help cure the pavement and offer protection from UV sunlight. But the powder also affects aircraft braking conditions and lowers friction pavement values.

Neubert Aero has performed friction testing surveys on the runways at Joint Base Charleston for six years. Friction values, expressed in Mu numbers, describe the paved surface and can be used to evaluate the surface friction deterioration of runway pavements and to identify corrective actions required for safe aircraft operations. Friction testing, performed at 40 mph to determine microtexture or fine scale roughness and 60 mph to determine macrotexture or visible roughness of the pavement surface as a whole also measures skid resistance or braking action.

Six months after Runway 03-21 opened, Neubert Aero confirmed a decrease of .16 Mu - a significant finding, explains Neubert.

In comparison, Runway 15-33 had Mu values within the design objective levels immediately upon opening. Based on previous experience, the engineering firm and contactor used less "curing compound" and therefore limited its effect on friction values, Neubert explains.

Instead of seeing friction results within the maintenance planning levels of .63 Mu, which was the case when Runway 03-21 opened in June 2010, Runway 15-33 classification values were within proper design/objective levels and averaged .73 Mu.

Neubert cautions that lower friction values on a paved surface as a result of existing contaminates, such as rubber deposits, oil or concrete powder combined with "wet" conditions can result in poor aircraft braking deceleration and decreased aircraft directional control. They could be contributing factors to an aircraft run-off, he adds.

Part of Kempson's job is to evaluate pavement, primarily at the general aviation airports and at some of the air carrier facilities in South Carolina. One of ways he evaluates pavement performance is using Neubert Aero's continuous friction measuring device, the Dynamic Friction Tester.

Kempson has observed that it takes several years for sealers used during concrete runway construction to wash away and improve friction values. He intends on performing additional research using friction survey results to enhance his existing state pavement evaluation and planning program.


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