Airfield management helps keep B-1s rolling

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Ellsworth is home to 4,049,100 square feet of airfield - an area that is meticulously maintained and patrolled by Airmen from the 28th Operations Support Squadron Airfield Management Office.

Foreign object debris checks, bird aircraft strike hazard program management and monitoring the airfield for damage or distress results in every day being a busy one for the Airmen.

Airman 1st Class Steven Hernandez, 28th OSS Airfield Management operations coordinator, said a daily log is kept in order to keep track of the many tasks accomplished or incidents that occur on any given shift.

"We complete a FOD check every two hours, make sure the flightline markings are good to go and do a daily lighting check," Hernandez explained.

Senior Airman Darren Ranes, 28th OSS Airfield Management operations supervisor, said the shop is a go-between for different operations that involve the flightline.

"We have our hands in a lot of different things, from maintaining the airfield to supporting transient aircraft," Ranes said.

Hernandez noted that most people probably don't know airfield management also acts as airfield "police."

"We have the authority to enforce airfield driving rules," Hernandez said. "There's at least one spot check per shift where we check to make sure a driver has their airfield driver's license and is obeying all flightline driving regulations."

Ranes said safety is a huge concern when dealing with B-1 bomber operations, and his office spends a great deal of time monitoring the condition of the airfield during and after bouts of precipitation.

"In the winter, we have what are called runway surface condition checks that measure snow or slush on the flightline," Ranes noted. "We take a reading every 1,000 feet using an instrument called an airfield friction meter to determine how slick the runway is."

Snow isn't the only thing that can affect a B-1's braking ability, though. Airfield management members also measure rainfall through runway condition readings.

"We come up with an RCR number and then it's reported up using a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen)," Ranes said. "Anything less than a nine requires approval from the 28th Operations Group commander for a take off or landing."

Another little-known aspect of airfield management is the study of structures and other objects on and around the flightline.

"We can't have things protrude the imaginary surfaces," Hernandez said, referring to nearly invisible layers of the airfield. "The (air traffic control) tower is what's known as a permissible deviation. Buildings can't be too close to the airfield and things can't be built too high on the airfield. It has to be kept open."

Hernandez said he always wanted to have a career that involved aircraft, and that he enjoys being able to work closely with the B-1.

"Being able to drive out on the runway and watch a B-1 take off is a great experience - one that not a lot of people can say they've had," Hernandez said.

Ranes added whether he and his coworkers are assisting a pilot with a flight plan or coordinating a flightline repair, they are constantly paving the way for Ellsworth's aircraft to complete their mission.

"B-1s don't take off without a runway," Ranes said. "We make sure they have that capability."