If you think sharing the road with a tractor-trailer is nerve wracking, imagine how you’d feel if you encountered a fast moving 33,000-pound F/A-18 Hornet? But that’s exactly what could happen if your job includes driving on the airfield at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
In order to avoid the potential mishaps that might arise from such a situation, an airfield driving safety course is offered free to station personnel — military or civilian — who require vehicle access to operate on the airfield.
“There are people driving out there every single day,” explained Aviation Boatswains Mate Handler 2nd Class Robert Magee, course instructor who shares the teaching duties with fellow Airfield Division Sailor, Aviation Boatswains Mate Handler 2nd Class (AW/SW) Jawann Murray. “They might be maintaining the arresting gear, fueling aircraft, doing electrical work, towing aircraft, unloading cargo or driving a forklift. Whatever they do, if they’re on or near the airfield, they need a license.”
Held weekly in the Air Operations building, the class is an hour and addresses all of the main safety concerns.
“We’ll go through everything you need to know like the blind spots, how fast you can travel on the airfield, and how to read the markings so you can determine your location if you get lost out there and need someone to escort you off,” Magee said. “We’ll also cover the airfield map — the location of the helicopter pads, taxiways and runways.”
After the class, attendees return the following week to take a written test. If they pass, they’ll earn their license, which must be renewed every year.
One of the most important driving safety measures is communicating with the Air Traffic Control tower.
“The tower controls all movement in the sky and on the ground,” Magee said, “and we must always get permission from them before driving out on the airfield.”
Each vehicle has a designator, or call sign, that the driver must identify when calling the tower with their current location and the location of where they want to go, Magee explained. The tower will then give the vehicle a specific route to travel so if there are aircraft transiting on the taxiway or taking off on the duty runway, they won’t intersect with each other.
“Sometimes, you do intersect with aircraft that are taxiing, but then you just pull off to the side and give way to the aircraft,” Magee said. “The tower controls it all, and it can get hectic at times, especially in the summer when more activities and training are going on.”
Magee estimates they’ve qualified at least 1,000 personnel this past year through the safety classes.
“We’re here to help people understand the ways of the airfield and how to navigate the environment safely,” he said. “We want to show people what they need to know.”
To attend the airfield driving safety class, contact Magee at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Murray at email@example.com or 301-342-3570.