Joint forces assemble for contingency airfield pavement evaluation course

  • Published
  • By Susan Lawson
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
Members of the Air Force, Navy and Marines traveled here recently for a two-week course in contingency airfield pavement evaluation.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center's Operations Directorate provides certification training in contingency airfield pavement evaluation for all Department of Defense components as well as numerous coalition and partner nations, including Australia, Canada and South Korea.

After the attacks of 9/11, teams from multiple units were deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and tasked to determine the suitability of existing airfields for bed-down and operations of U.S. military aircraft. Initial teams included U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Teams; Air Mobility Command, or AMC; airfield suitability teams; AFCEC, formerly known as the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency; Airfield Pavement Evaluation, or APE, teams; Contingency Response Groups; Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers, or RED HORSE, units; as well as U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel assigned to Marine Air Wings and Naval Construction Regiments.

"Without a common source of training and guidance, the capabilities and evaluation methodologies employed by these organizations and teams varied widely," said Richard Smith, APE contingency training director at AFCEC. "Some teams trained to determine the suitability of semi-prepared, or unsurfaced airfields were tasked to evaluate paved runways. From a planning perspective, this led to a lot of confusion and duplication of effort when opening up new airbases.

"With the influx of multiple units, the data being provided to mission planners was not consistent. Upon review of the newly collected suitability information, it became readily apparent that the units were not using the same methods to determine and report the airfield structural capability."

The Air Combat Command and the AMC civil engineer staffs discussed capability gaps, and in turn tasked AFCEC to develop and publish standard procedures. As a result, Engineering Technical Letter 02-19 was published. Additionally, the Contingency Airfield Pavement Evaluation Course at AFCEC was instituted to fill this urgent operational need within the civil engineering community.

Due to the intricacies of pavement evaluation and the variability of soils and pavement construction methods around the world, major command pavement engineers jointly agreed that training of evaluation personnel by AFCEC was required to ensure those tasked were truly qualified to perform evaluations.

The first week of training consists primarily of classroom instruction. Students learn pavement design and evaluation concepts, soil characteristics, pavement condition index surveys, detailed structural pavement evaluation procedures, and various pavement-overlay conditions. Instructors also go over two methods used to report pavement strength: the International Civil Aviation Organization Aircraft Classification Number/Pavement Classification Number system and the Load Classification Number system used throughout Europe.

Students put theory into practice during the second week of the course by applying the principles learned in the classroom in a field environment. The class members conduct a field evaluation at an actual airfield, performing dynamic cone penetrometer tests to collect structural information and gathering PCI survey data.

"Determining if a multi-million dollar aircraft can safely operate from an airfield is a serious engineering problem," said Capt Andrew Jouben, the AFCEC APE Branch Chief. "We are fortunate to have the facilities here at Tyndall that allow us to provide realistic, hands-on training and evaluate individual students' ability to make the right decision in a training environment; before they are tasked to make that call with potentially limited aircraft resources and lives on the line."

After the field evaluation is complete, the students are provided instruction on Pavement-Transportation Computer Assisted Structural Engineering, a software program used by the Department of Defense to calculate pavement strength data. Each student compiles a final written report of their evaluation findings suitable for publication.

Each member's report is reviewed and critiqued on the final day. Instructors determine whether students will be certified to independently perform airfield pavement evaluations.

Course materials are continually updated to provide evaluation personnel with the most current information they need to adequately assess airfield pavements. Every area of responsibility and installation is different, with unique engineering challenges. For example, the evaluations methods of Soviet-style precast concrete slabs encountered in Eastern Europe and the Middle-East, and those used for nontraditional, often crude, construction in austere environments such as in Africa are drastically different.

To learn more about the APE Team, contact the AFCEC Reach Back Center at or 850-283-6995.