Airfield ops, plus engineers, equals functional airfield

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The 86th Airfield Operations Flight shut down flight operations on Ramstein Monday to conduct essential repairs to the airfield’s lighting systems and associated components.

Airmen and German civil engineers worked together from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. making repairs that are critical to airfield systems.

“Ramstein is the gateway to Europe,” said Capt. Casey Hayes, 86th Operations Support Squadron airfield operations flight commander. “When you travel from the U.S. toward any (deployed environment) current operations and the rest of Europe, you’re stopping at Ramstein. We have a commitment to the wing, command and the Air Force to stay operational 24 hours a day. To do that, we must ensure the airfield is maintained.”

 “These repairs are vital to the continuation of instrument flight rules operations at Ramstein,” said Senior Master Sgt. Nicholas LeMay, 86th Airfield Operations airfield manager. “This allows the critical missions to continue during times of low visibility and at night.”

During times of low visibility, pilots utilize an instrument landing system. The ILS at Ramstein is the only Category III A ILS in the Department of Defense. This category allows pilots to land in conditions with visibility no less than  660 feet, which is needed for the foggy mornings and snowy winters in Germany.

During the shutdown, Airmen and local nationals conducted a vault assault where the 786th Civil Engineer Squadron power production team pumped water out of underground vaults, containing lighting panels. This allowed the German airfield lighting team to enter and safely repair or replace lighting remotes and other lighting components, ensuring a properly lit airfield.

Other sustainment operations included barrier maintenance, pavement samples and pavement repair.

“It’s nice to have a general runway closure for us to work on barrier maintenance,” said Staff Sgt. Frank Furman, 786th Civil Engineer Squadron barrier maintenance NCOIC. “It’s good to be able to concentrate more on our work being done and doing a good job rather than listening and moving when the mobile radio calls for an inbound aircraft.”

He said his crew would normally be out of the way in about 30 minutes, taking everything with them to ensure no foreign object damage is done to aircraft landing.

“To fly at night and during inclement weather, we must have an operational lighting system,” Hayes said. “We have a large job ahead of us that covers 12.5 million square feet of airfield pavement and two runways.”

Another aspect of ensuring the DOD’s only Category III A instrument landing system is operational is ensuring the markings on the runways and taxiways are visible and properly marked to prevent vehicles from interfering with the ILS signal.

“The instrument hold lines are repainted to increase the visibility of markings and enhance airfield safety for both aircrew members and airfield vehicle operators,” LeMay said.

He added that if someone were to obstruct the ILS signal, the pilot’s on-board readout could be wrong, which is dangerous when landing a multimillion dollar aircraft.

“Tower approval is needed before crossing that line,” said the 21-year airfield veteran and Michigan native.

Airfield operations is scheduled to shut down the airfield again to facilitate more maintenance in the future. However, Hayes added that mission critical and in-flight emergencies will still be able to land within a two-hour window.

This will not affect the normal number of nighttime-flying operations during nights the airfield is not closed.