If loose debris in the road is bothersome when driving a car, imagine the havoc it can wreak when trying to maneuver an aircraft —which is exactly why repairs are currently underway on the airfield at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
“The purpose of the job is to extend the life cycle of the airfield and reduce the risk for a [foreign object debris] incident,” said Joe Dyson, engineering technician with Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
Design began in January 2013 after NAVFAC received a work order requesting replacement of joint sealant and spall repairs for runway 6-24. Inspection of the runway revealed some low to high severity joint spalling, which is the flaking and chipping of material broken off from a larger concrete portion, Dyson explained.
“Spalling can be caused by snowplows clearing snow or just through typical wear and tear,” he said. “Over time, conventional portland cement concrete pavements may experience rapid deterioration if exposed to excessive heat from aircraft exhaust, and the [VTOL Joint Strike Fighter] program reported ingesting FOD into their engines which, obviously, is detrimental to their mission.”
Dyson explained that the primary landing surface for runway 6-24 is approximately 195 feet wide, made up of separate 12.5x15 ft. concrete blocks. Partial depth spall repairs are being done within the first 1,370 feet of the runway and all of the joint sealant between the blocks will be replaced.
“Once a section is marked for repair, the spalled concrete will be saw cut and excavated at least two inches deep,” he said. “The excavation will then be cleaned to prepare the surface for bonding to the new material. Once the newly poured concrete has properly cured, the contractor will replace the joint sealant.”
Work is expected to be completed in November; meanwhile, airfield management is dealing with the temporary inconvenience.
“We don’t want to hamper flight operations; we must look after flight testing,” said Pax River’s airfield manager, Jim Fletcher. “We had to give notice to Naval Test Wing Atlantic and other users on station to let them know about the construction so they can plan around it, since the contractors are out there all day making repairs.”
With runway 6-24 shut down from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., runway 14-32 is the only one in use during the day. From 3:30 p.m. to dusk, the runway is reopened for use with a relocated threshold, which means aircraft must touch down further down the runway than usual, avoiding the area under repair.
“There are actually three runways on base but one is used for helicopters and small propeller aircraft,” said Nick Goldstein, Pax River’s deputy airfield manager.
A noise advisory was also put out to the community alerting certain neighborhoods that residents may notice changes in flight patterns and increased noise levels due to the runway repairs.
Originally built in 1943, the runway last had isolated repairs done in 2009, Dyson said.
“These repairs are meant to extend the life cycle of our runway,” he added. “We’re doing what we can to patch what can be patched and then schedule full replacement of these pavements down the road as the budget allows.”
There is a plan in place for the future.
“We currently have a project in the works for fiscal year 2016,” said Erika Jiang, the NAVFAC planner who put together the request for project approval. “It will overlay runways 14-32 and 6-24, as well as update the electrical infrastructure and improve storm water management.”
If programmed, and if funds become available, the project could be awarded all at once or phased over several years, Jiang explained.
“It’s a vital mission,” Dyson said. “We must plan ahead to maintain this airfield.”