October 31, 2008: Edwards Main Runway Officially Re-Opens

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  • Air Force Flight Test Center

Edwards Air Force Base hosted a special ribbon cutting ceremony to officially re-open its main runway for normal operations, some two months earlier than the runway’s expected completion date of December 2008. The contractor completed construction on the main runway on September 19, four months after it became inoperative. The runway replacement initiative had begun in 1981, when pavement evaluations initially indicated possible problems. Ensuing evaluations over the following several years revealed that the runway was failing at an increasing rate. The $118 million project was headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Edwards F‑16 aircraft flown by Air Force Flight Test Center commander Maj Gen David J. Eichhorn and 412th Test Wing commander Col William J. Thornton took off from the new base runway at about 1045 local time, they marked the runway’s first operational use.

The 53-year-old runway is deteriorating and poses an increasing foreign object damage threat to aircraft, said James Judkins, director of the 95th Civil Engineer and Transportation Directorate.  "The alkali and the silicate in the concrete itself is interacting to form a paste," Mr. Judkins said. "When it gets wet from moisture in the air, it starts to expand and cause cracks. Basically, the concrete begins to crumble on the top. If an aircraft engine sucks up a piece of concrete, the damage is almost as expensive to repair as replacing the runway."  It costs $500,000 a year to pay personnel to search for loose portions of runway and pick it up, he said.

"We will first build a temporary runway halfway between the ramp and the main runway," said Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke, Air Force Flight Test Center commander. "Once it's complete, we will tear up and replace the bad portions of the old runway. Once that is done, we will shift operations back to the new runway. It remains to be seen what we will do with the temporary runway after the new one is complete."  The main runway is 15,000 feet long and 19 inches thick, while the temporary runway will be 12,000 feet long, Mr. Judkins said. Planners are hoping to have the temporary runway done by the end of 2007 and should begin rebuilding the old runway in 2008.  "The entire runway except one section, which is 150 feet wide and 2000 feet long, will be replaced," Mr. Judkins said. "That section was replaced in the fall of 2001 at the end of the runway. Aircraft park there to run their engines and take off. The cost was $5 million to replace that section."  Strict specifications will ensure the new runway will not be prone to the same problems, he said.


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