No business like snow business

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Keith
  • 130 AW Public Affairs
Clearing an airfield of snow is no easy task.

"We've had crew out here from 7:00 last night until 9 o'clock this morning. They're pushing snow all night long, keeping the taxi line clear to where flight operations can continue," said Dave Rectenwald, Superintendant of State Operations and Maintenance.

In spite of a winter storm that blasted the area, Tuesday, January 5, it was business as usual at the West Virginia Air National Guard at Yeager Airport in Charleston.

"When we get snow like this, we all come out," said civilian Tom McBurney, a state employee whose regular job is to take care of all the plumbing on base.

McBurney's job is to clear the centerline--the taxi line that the airplanes follow--and keep it clear so C-130H3 Hercules missions can fly as planned.

"This is our priority right here," said McBurney as he manned a small truck with a blade attached to it.

When asked if the snow storm has disrupted airlift operations, Master Sgt. Shane Crum, Flight Engineer at the 130th Airlift Wing, said, "We've remained 100% mission capable."

With the help of these overtime employees, the C-130s can take off and land as scheduled.

"There's not a lot of difference flying once you're up there. It's nice to have visibility but we don't need it," said Master Sgt. Crum, referring to flying IFR, looking only at the instruments to navigate.

McBurney's truck is equipped with a blizzard spreader to lay down urea, a non-corroding alternative to rock salt.

"Urea is a 4600 fertilizer that keeps it clear," explained McBurney.

Plowing the airfield is a team effort. While McBurney keeps the centerline clear, a big plow is used to push the snow into a large wind row which is a line of snow, much like a row of corn.

"Then an Oshkosh snow blower picks up the snow from the wind row and blows it farther to where the snow plows can pick it up again or move it out into the grass area around the parking apron," said Rectenwald.

Rectenwald's crew is also responsible for the repair and upkeep of equipment.

"Vehicle maintenance assists us in maintaining that equipment and they also take care of the major repairs. We've got two guys who are staying late tonight to put a new cutting edge on our plow because it snagged something on the flightline and broke," said Rectenwald.

This winter, snow and emergency service on base started December 9th, and to date, Rectenwald's crew has accumulated 278 hours of overtime.

"We coordinate heavily with flight operations and maintenance control to move aircraft around and clean out from under and around the aircraft and have as much of the ramp clear as possible," said Rectenwald.

The snow removal crew is limited by several factors, the amount of equipment they have and the manpower available. The biggest limiting factor is that urea quits working at 20 degrees. Salt, which is used on the lower part of the base quits working at 15 degrees.

"It's supposed to be down into single digits Sunday evening," said Rectenwald.

But for now, the taxi lines remain clear and the show must go on.