FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - With roughly 14 million square feet of pavement, and 2,168 lights, Fairchild's airfield lights up further then the eye can see after the sun goes down, and a 16-member team works in partnership with a few other agencies to ensure the airfield is mission-ready throughout the night.
While many base members are heading home for the day, the 92nd Operations Support Squadron airfield management night-shift team is beginning the evening's tasks.
Airman 1st Class Seam Hankins, 92nd Operations Support Squadron airfield management operations coordinator, annotates a light out on the airfield inspection checklist during their nightly light checks Feb. 10, 2014, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. The airfield management team conducts light checks every night to ensure all 2,168 lights are working on Fairchild's airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Veronica Montes)
“We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Roberta Laporte, 92nd OSS airfield manager. “The airfield management team is responsible for maintaining the airfield. We need to make sure the airfield is safe, and runways are ready to support aircraft.”
During the short winter days, the night-shift tasks begin with light checks. This requires checking the whole airfield, to include the blue lights on the taxiways, the white lights along the runways, the red lights at the end of the runways and the approach lights at the far ends of the airfield.
“We check every light on the airfield within the first two hours of darkness,” said Senior Airman Alisha Laws, 92nd OSS airfield management shift lead. “We have to ensure aircraft landing at night can visually see the runway. This can be a challenge in the winter because if it is snowing hard we have low visibility, and must coordinate with the snow team to drive safe on the flightline.”
The snow barn is just one base agency the airfield management team works closely with, especially in the winter. While testing the approach lights, the team also works closely with the air traffic control members in the tower to raise the approach lights' voltage to the brightest setting. Communication is necessary to keep safe driving and flying conditions on the airfield, and is critical to the priorities of airfield management.
While checking lights, the team is constantly patrolling the runways, and conducting runway condition reading tests, breaking tests and checking the pavement for cracks and deficiencies. Laporte said when there is a problem or a light outage, they take care of it as quick as possible.
After checking the airfield lights initially, the team patrols every two hours, and in inclement weather, they may be out patrolling the airfield all night.
“We have to ensure the priority route is always cleared out in case of an alert and an aircraft has to take off,” said Laws. “The most rewarding part of my job is being responsible for the safety of any aircraft that takes off, and when they get off the ground, I know I did my job right.”
Laws said they also assist in ground emergencies and issues, along with those in the air approaching.
“At night, we are also here to make sure any in-flight emergencies can land,” said Senior Airman Timothy Sunday, 92nd OSS airfield management shift lead. “We also support the 36th Rescue Squadron, in that if they need to perform a search and rescue, they are able to land on the airfield.”
While airfield management is a year-round job, the winter does propose different obstacles.
According to Laporte, freezing fog and heavy snow are the biggest challenges in winter. They must make sure the drivers are safe, and that they continuously maintain the runway and alert routes. They also monitor the snow build up to ensure aircraft can taxi and park, and that aircrew can see the center line.
“We also work with maintenance to make sure everything is cleared from the runway, and are in constant communication with those agencies who share the airfield,” Laporte said. “We are like an information hub. We get information, pass information and work with other agencies to make sure the airfield is always safe and mission ready.”
“Airfield management is a key player in the airfield operations,” she continued. “But they couldn't have mission success without all the other agencies.”
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Veronica Montes
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article