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To be airborne is to be ground ready

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Danielle Dawson
  • 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

After more than a year of weather wars, underground surprises, and miles of paper trails, a monumental endeavor in South Carolina Air National Guard history has ended. The runway reconstruction project at McEntire Joint National Guard Base was completed the first week in February.

According to Lt. Col. Gareth Fleischer, the 169th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, construction began in May of 2021. However, the initial planning for this project dates back to 2015.

“The original design created during 2015 through 2018 only included a partial runway reconstruction,” said Fleischer. “We eventually thought it economical to reassess the design for a whole runway reconstruction to avoid runway closure in the future.”

Fleischer explains how a project that began at 16 million dollars turned into a 30-million-dollar design.

“We worked with the National Guard Bureau to complete the updated design,” said Fleischer. “The project was then sent to the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety, and infrastructure for funding and bid authority.”

Fleischer was relieved to announce the bids were awarded and designs were approved by the end of 2021 and construction began shortly thereafter.

“A portion of original runway had not been replaced since the 1950s and the rapid decline in durability was a contributing factor that provoked the need for reconstruction,” said Fleischer. “We ended up tearing out almost 50 percent of the runway and replacing it with concrete versus asphalt.”

Fleischer emphasized that the most critical areas on a runway are the points where the aircraft touch down. He noted replacing the asphalt with concrete significantly increases durability against the impact of aircraft for years to come.

Mr. Nelson McLeod, an engineer with the 169th CES and contracting officer representative, sheds light on a few additional components.

“For the first time, we have an underdrain system within the new portions of the runway,” said McLeod. “Underneath the concrete is a filter fabric and gap graded stone aggregate that allows for any water under the concrete to drain off into a French drain and distributes to drain ditches.”

Preventing water from pooling under the concrete keeps the soil from eroding underneath and causing cracks in the pavement. This mitigation alone could add years to the lifespan of the runway.

McLeod expressed his excitement for the project but also recognized this project was no easy task, stating the main causes for delays and contract extensions were unforeseen conditions underground.

“We found abandoned cables, pipes, duct banks, and concrete throughout the digging process,” said McLeod. “Each of these findings required examination from a separate party and reassessment for extraction.”

Despite the setbacks, both Fleischer and McLeod are grateful for the successful accomplishment and share deep gratitude for everyone involved.

“None of this would be possible without the support of our wing, Air National Guard Civil Engineering Technical Center and National Guard Bureau, specifically the Logistics and Installations Directorate [NGB/A4],” said Fleischer.

He also highlighted the collaboration with the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

“As much equipment and logistics that are required to support our Airmen and aircraft, I don't want the adjustment the airport made for our mission to go unnoticed,” said Fleischer.

At a base level, the effects of the runway construction were felt by all, McLeod said. McEntire Joint National Guard Base displayed phenomenal resilience as each squadron did their part to continue the mission.

“The 169th Security Forces Squadron played a vital role in vetting all personnel coming into the installation,” said McLeod. “While also demonstrating optimal security at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, ensuring the safety of our equipment and Airmen.”

Fleischer added that the 169th Maintenance Group and the 169th Operations Group held a large footprint at the airport to keep operations mission-ready. He is grateful for the Airmen's perseverance as they navigated through this time.

McLeod and Fleischer are grateful for their civil engineer Airmen and the work they put into constructing the runway design, facilitating airport collaboration, and maintaining the grounds at McEntire.

“A big accomplishment for the civil engineer Airmen was installing an aircraft arresting system at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport for the fighter jets landing,” said Fleischer. “While also installing [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] in the wing’s temporary workstations.”

McLeod and Fleischer agree that the magnitude of this project was a significant team effort that will affect McEntire Joint National Guard Base for many years to come. ­