Airfield Operations keeps Maxwell open to air traffic

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Day in and day out, the personnel at Maxwell's Airfield Operations perform the tasks that keep the airfield open and safe for visitors and aircraft assigned to the base.

The primary runway is active from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and must be checked and maintained by AO personnel who are part of CSC Applied Technology Division's Maxwell Support Division working under guidance from the 42nd Mission Support Squadron.

Mark Enyart, the new airfield operations manager, said the job keeps him and his staff busy, as there is a lot more to do it then might appear to casual observers.

"In maintaining the airfield, we have to check the runways and taxiways a minimum of once a day to be sure there are no foreign objects on them; we check the lighting after dark to be sure it is working; check pilot licenses to make certain they are current; enforce speed limits on the taxiways and in the aircraft parking areas; and keep the field free of birds and wildlife that are a hazard to aircraft," he said. "In addition, we will perform 'opening inspections' as needed for aircraft that have to leave Maxwell before the airfield opens at 8 a.m. and keep pilots, both here and inbound, abreast of weather conditions, such as rain or snow, that might be a problem for them."

Mr. Enyart said birds can be especially hazardous to aircraft, particularly jets, because they can be sucked into engines causing engine failure or disintegration. Therefore, runway inspections, and, when needed, propane "bird cannons" that generate a loud noise that scares birds away are employed to rid the airfield of that problem.

"Also, for the most part, anything that doesn't absolutely have to be along the runway is removed," he said. "Taxiway signs and lights have to be there, but we make them as safe as possible. For example, to minimize damage and danger, the taxiway signs are built to fold up if accidentally hit by an aircraft."

Mark Barnhart, airfield operations department manager, said Maxwell-Gunter is "second only to Andrews AFB, [Md.]," for distinguished visitor operations, and that makes the safety and maintenance of the airfield all the more important.

"Primarily in support of Air University, we host everyone from the President of the United States to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to JCS members to the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force to a variety of distinguished visitors here at Maxwell-Gunter," he said. "The DVs and high-ranking military members typically come in support of the schools."

Mr. Barnhart said the base and airfield also host the Air Force Reserve's 908th Airlift Wing by providing a facility for the wing and handles transient aircraft and cargo missions to support deployments by getting warriors in and out of Maxwell-Gunter. He said airfield operations "partners" with base civil engineering personnel, who do the actually repairs, modifications and additions to the field, to meet the criteria for safe operation.

John Prior, MSD Civil Engineer manager, said base CE personnel and management want to be sure the airfield is operational and safe.

"We work with airfield operations to be sure the runways, taxiways and parking areas are swept, barriers are in place and lights are working," he said. "When we do any construction work, we also work with them to make sure we don't interrupt flight operations and safety."

Mr. Enyart said another concern for AO personnel is the "arrest systems" at each end of the active runway that can be used by hook-style aircraft for emergency landings. These consist of heavy steel cables stretches across the runway for hooks to engage, and must be regularly checked to ensure they are in proper working condition.

"These are, of course, not used day-to-day but are designed for one-time-use in the event we have that type of aircraft coming in with trouble," he said. "I also have to make a judgment call as to when to clean the runway of rubber deposits from aircraft wheels. For financial reasons, I try to limit that to once a year, but if necessary, it will be done more often."

Mr. Enyart said additionally there are cement areas around the runway that don't appear to be used anymore, and he will make a decision in the near future as to whether they should be removed and replaced with grass.

He said "generally speaking" the airfield maintains the 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule, but the AO staff is always happy to accommodate the needs of special events or visitors. Air shows and other occasions, such as aircraft arrivals for presidential visits and distinguished visitors and the National Security Forum's static displays and aerial demonstrations, are examples of special occasions requiring the attention of airfield operations personnel.

Mr. Enyart has been at Maxwell-Gunter for about five weeks and comes to the base from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., after retiring from a 23-year active-duty career as a master sergeant. Originally from the state of Washington, he said he spent his entire Air Force career in the airfield operations field.

"When I came in the Air Force, I wanted to get into administrative work, and after looking at the possibilities, airfield operations became my second choice," he said. "During my career I served at Holloman AFB, N.M.; Korea; Aviano Air Base, Italy; Fairbanks, Alaska; Edwards AFB, Calif.; McGuire AFB, N.J.; and Moody. Now that I'm here at Maxwell, I really love it. It is a great airfield with a great layout."

On a final note, Mr. Enyart asked base members and visitors to remember that the airfield is off-limits to anyone who doesn't have a need to be on it.

"It is a controlled area, and security of the airfield is vigorously enforced by the 42nd Security Forces Squadron," he said. "Visits to the airfield are possible by following proper procedures. The first step is to contact Air University Public Affairs regarding a tour of the base."