EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The “Dirt Boyz” of the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) are always on the go; during the summer, they help maintain infrastructure around the base and in the winter they ensure Eielson’s airfield is free of snow and ice.
They have an extra job to do this winter, which is to help ensure the F-35A Lightning II is prepared for cold weather conditions.
“We at CE have to make sure the runway is free of snow and ice every day,” said Timothy Hardman, the 354th CES work leader. “Once that is done, we create ice on the flight line so the F-35 can test.”
The F-35A was here to be certified to operate on an icy runway, and although it may seem easy in the Alaskan environment, it’s not that simple.
“The reason we have to create the ice is because it has to be set to a specific RCR [runway condition reading],” said Hardman. “We provide the F-35 team with the controlled environment needed to perform their testing.”
The RCR scale is based on how wet and dry each runway is. RCR 23 is considered a dry runway while RCR 5 is compared to landing on ice. The testing for the F-35A was designed to certify the aircraft, which is presently capable of landing at an RCR 12, is able to land at an RCR of 7.
Typically, ice on an airfield is a bad thing. So naturally the 354th CES did not have equipment specifically designed to create it on the runway. That’s where the “Dirt Boyz” used something known to all Airmen, innovation.
“To help with this testing, we repurposed one of our trucks to create ice instead of removing it,” said Hardman. “We use this truck to spray water on the flightline; after each pass, the RCR is tested until we get to the number we need.”
The accomplishment of RCR testing for the Air Force’s newest fifth generation fighter aircraft is important, but equally important is how the “Dirt Boyz” efforts are helping prepare Eielson for what is on the horizon.
“Their contributions to the testing are going to feed directly into our ability to operate the F-35 when it’s assigned here,” said Col. Todd Robbins, the 354th Fighter Wing vice commander. “And because of that, what these Airmen are doing now will directly contribute to the combat capability of Eielson Air Force Base in the future.”