LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Little Rock Air Force Base reopened its 4,000-foot Assault Landing Zone May 11, which completes Phase 1 of a $180 million project to replace the 65-year-old, 12,000-foot runway.
The shorter runway, which has been closed since 2015, is used as a training tool for pilots to practice landing in austere locations with unfinished or shorter runways.
“The ALZ allows aircrew to practice landing on a shorter and narrower landing surface in preparation for combat airlift in a forward deployed location,” said 1st Lt. Caleb Richardson, 61st Airlift Squadron pilot. “The idea is that if we practice how we play, knowing the locations we may be going might have limited runway capabilities, we will still have the skills to operate in any environment.”
Assault landings require the aircraft to touch down on the runway within 500 feet and come to a complete stop on the remaining 3,000 feet. The purpose is to land in a small zone quickly during tactical combat airlift missions.
Since the ALZ’s closure in 2015, LRAFB pilots were required to fly to other airfields to receive the type of training that will now be available at home station.
“Six years was a significant amount of time without the benefits of having an ALZ, and the flying community here is very excited to see its return,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Vigil, 19th Operations Support Squadron director of airfield operations. “It’s a major addition to the training capabilities this airfield can provide.”
In addition to bolstering the capabilities for pilots, the 19th OSS air traffic controllers also benefit from the on-the-job experience that comes from the reopening of the landing zone.
“For many of the controllers, this will be the first time that they will have worked an ALZ in their careers, which is a great learning opportunity for them,” Vigil said. “They have trained hard in the simulators to get ready to integrate the ALZ into daily operations, and with the help of several of our controllers who were around to work the ALZ before it closed, they will rise to the challenge presented. The reopening will also add new responsibilities to our airfield management team as they ensure that the ALZ is well taken care of and maintained for years to come.”
Despite LRAFB’s inability to train on a local ALZ for the last six years, the motivation to achieve excellent, safe and efficient mission execution has remained resolute, Richardson said.
“This will enable aircrew to become highly skilled at short runway operations and maintain a level of proficiency at the local level rather than having to go elsewhere in the country to gain and maintain such a perishable skillset,” Richardson said. “What it really means for the C-130 community, and for our role in tactical airlift, is that it will enable our aircrews to land practically anywhere in the world and have the confidence to do so.”
Simply stated, the runway ensures C-130J aircrews have the necessary training to land at any location while continuing to support a variety of missions between the 19th, 314th and 189th Airlift Wings and 913th Airlift Group.
"This runway is vital to our training and we're thrilled to have our assault strip fully operational again," said Col. John Schutte, 19th Airlift Wing commander. "This upgrade improves both mission capability and safety for the largest fleet of C-130s in the world. We’re excited that construction of our 12,000-foot runway is on track for completion.”
Once all phases of construction are complete, the airfield will be at a length of 12,000 feet and 150 feet in width – accommodating the C-130 aircraft maintained at Little Rock, in addition to aircraft within Air Mobility Command’s fleet such as the C-5 Galaxy, KC-10 Extender, C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 Stratotanker.