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Minot completes $56.7 million runway repair

Base and community leaders join Col. Jason Armagost, 5th Bomb Wing commander, as he cuts a ribbon during a ceremony to commemorate the completion of the new runway on Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Sept. 29, 2014. The project began in early April and cost approximately $57 million to complete. The recent construction marks the first replacement of the flightline. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephanie Morris/Released)

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By Capt. Daniel M. Bradfield and 1st Lt. Jason A. Hernandez
5th Civil Engineer Squadron

     In 2009, headquarters Air Force Civil Engineering developed a list of the worst runways in the Air Force. 

     Minot AFB, North Dakota, topped the list for active duty installations.  The condition of the pavements led to a three-year full depth repair of the 13,200 foot runway; a massive undertaking complicated by a short five to six month construction window and the need to maintain launch and recovery capabilities without a parallel runway. Throughout the process, many lessons learned and outside the box thinking made this project successful.

     Constructed predominantly between 1956 and 1959, Minot's runway has been the home to aircraft such as the F-106 Delta Dart and the KC-135 Stratotanker and, most recently, the B-52 Stratofortress.  The runway was intended to have a 30-year service life but had seen little more than basic maintenance such as spall repair, crack sealing and painting in over 50 years. Over the years, Minot's runway served the historic Strategic Air Command, Air Combat Command and now Air Force Global Strike Command. North Dakota experiences extremely cold, snowy winters and warm, humid summers with frequent rain and thunderstorms adding to the various challenges the men and women of the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron face daily.

     In total, all phases of the project cost $56.7 million.  When completed in 2014, the project required three separate contractors to place 84,915 cubic yards of concrete and 37,500 tons of asphalt in a span of three years. The amount of concrete poured spanned 300 feet wide in the first 2,000 feet of each end for the touchdown areas and 100 feet wide for the center keel section. The thickness of the concrete varied from 14.5" at the center of the runway to 18.5" closer to the thresholds. The asphalt repair spanned roughly 7,100 feet long and consisted of two, two-inch lifts. In order to meet the concrete cure time and delivery specifications, a batch plant was set up at the south end of the airfield for all three projects. An asphalt batch plant was also installed on site for the last phase of the project.  In addition to the concrete and asphalt pavements, the project replaced 127 runway lights and 158 threshold lights. 

Contracting Challenges
     Before any construction began, the first challenge was securing funding for all three phases in three separate funding years. Funding for one project phase didn't guarantee funding for the next phase. The first two phases received award in early May of their respective execution years, allowing both contractors only four months to place 22,000 cubic yards of concrete each. The timeline for the first two phases challenged the contractors and base personnel to complete the project before winter and Minot's annual U.S. Strategic Command exercise. Because of the nuclear mission at Minot, the exercise couldn't be delayed. With motivation to finish on time, the contractors and the supporting base personnel ensured the first two phases completed with no impact to the base mission. Compared to the first two phases, the last phase would be larger in both scope and impact to the base.

     The $32.8 million cost and size of the final phase meant the base could'nt wait to award the project in May and expect to finish in October. Engineers from the 5th CES and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed an aggressive contracting schedule to meet a April 1 construction start date; unfortunately, the fiscal environment in the fall of 2013 made securing funding for the project difficult. The engineering flight, led by Ronald Huettl, advocated for funds from senior leaders, highlighting the importance of receiving early funding for Minot's runway. Despite sequestration and the continuing resolution, the base secured funding on Nov. 22, 2013, and awarded the final phase less than a month later.    

Operational Challenges
     The mission at Minot required the airfield to be able to launch and recover aircraft during construction. The airfield requirement and shortened construction window necessitated outside-the-box thinking.  Members from the 5th CES and 5th Operations Support Squadron Airfield Management team developed a three-phased, three-year project plan.  The first two phases took place during consecutive summers and involved shortening the runway to 11,000 feet and displacing the threshold by 2,000 feet to complete the full depth repair of each end. In order to displace the threshold, the 5th CES airfield lighting team engineered the use of temporary precision approach path indicators. This allowed the B-52 to operate uninterrupted during two of the three phases. For the third and last phase, the runway needed to be closed for the duration of the project.

     The third phase required an incredible amount of coordination between the 5th Security Forces Squadron, OSS, CES and many other base agencies to develop a plan that transformed the parallel taxiway into an emergency launch and recovery surface.

     During construction, the 5th Bomb Wing deployed a bomb squadron to Guam as part of their regular Continuous Bomber Presence rotation and another squadron to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, for the duration of the runway closure. The 5th OSS developed operational procedures to activate an emergency launch and recovery surface if required. The contractor wasn't allowed to start demolition on the runway until the ELRS was up and operational - there always had to be an operational surface to launch and recover aircraft. The ELRS consisted of distance to go markers, runway markings on the parallel taxiway and an emergency airfield lighting system powered by mobile generators.

     Leading up to the closure, weekly meetings were held within the squadron where craft leads discussed timelines and the schedule to stand up the ELRS. The 5th CES Airmen stood up the ELRS during a one-week window between the aircraft leaving Minot for deployments and the construction start date for the contractor.

     Once the green light to begin work was given, everyone knew their jobs and executed the mission flawlessly. The airfield lighting team removed the taxiway lights and installed the EALS. Heavy repair constructed leveled and compacted mounds for the temporary PAPIs to be placed on. The structures shop custom-built distance to go markers and installed them on the taxiway. Power production set up the generators that powered the EALS system. Lastly, engineering assistants sighted and verified the location of the thresholds and PAPIs in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition, 5th CES coordinated the removal of airfield obstructions to include 10 foot by 60 foot ballpark lights, the existing airfield taxiway lights and striping the taxiway as a runway with the contractor. Good planning and communication between the shops made all of this possible. As a result, Minot AFB transitioned from the main runway to the parallel taxiway without any delay to the construction project or nuclear mission.   

Construction Challenges
     Similar to most construction jobs, the last phase of the runway project faced a number of issues. During the early stages of developing the mix design, one of the testing parameters didn't meet the specifications for Alkali Silica Reactivity.  Simply put, ASR is a chemical reaction with the aggregates that causes gels to form inside the concrete creating cracks and pop outs over time. Severe ASR can have serious consequences on the structural integrity of concrete. In addition, the pop outs become foreign object debris. Because of this, ASR is one of many tests the contractor is required to perform in order to pass USACE's strict mix design specifications. In this case, after discussion amongst the contractor and USACE engineers, the solution was to increase the amount of fly ash in the design. Fly ash mitigates ASR by causing a chemical reaction with the aggregates before the destructive gels begin to form.

     Some issues can be prevented but other issues or "Acts of God" were out of the hands of anyone. Early in the project, major flooding in South Dakota prevented the delivery of aggregates to Minot, potentially causing a delay to the project. To make matters worse, the rail company informed USACE they would resume delivering the trains with oil and grain having priority. To prevent a delay to the project, the base coordinated with USACE and the rail company to determine an alternate route for aggregate delivery without delaying the project. The route was agreed on and a delay to the project was avoided.

Lessons Learned
     The key to all of the success and an unprecedented zero delays throughout all three phases were the relationships and continuity between the organizations.  Outside of the prime contractor, the key players from OSS, CES and the local USACE primarily stayed the same. This fostered a common goal and understanding from each other to focus on the "bigger picture." The bigger picture in this case was zero impact on the nuclear mission. Having this mentality meant the base was able to quickly respond to any request from the contractor and the ability to quickly go through modifications. This also kept leadership informed and confident in the completion of the project.

     After three years of executing a plan first conceived more than four years prior, the project completed one day ahead of schedule, a feat in itself. The same day, Sept. 29, 2014, the 5th Bomb Wing hosted North Dakota's senators and Minot's mayor for a ribbon cutting ceremony with local media in attendance. The success of the three-phased, $56.7 million runway repair is an example of the hard work and dedication of the men and women of Minot AFB where "Only the Best Come North."