MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --
The 167th Airlift Wing’s airfield management team continues moving through the approval process to use a runway in Johnstown, Pa., as an assault landing zone for C-17 Globemaster III aircraft pilot training.
Runway 05/23 at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport, a 20-minute flight from the wing’s Martinsburg, W.Va., location, is 4,386 feet long and 100 feet wide, suitable for practicing assault landings.
Assault landings utilize the C-17’s capability of landing, fully loaded, on a small surface, but require great skill of the aircraft pilots. Pilots require between four and 12 assault landings per year to maintain their qualifications.
167th pilots conduct some assault landing training in the aircraft simulator and some at the Martinsburg airfield, but the long runway is not ideal for practicing assault landings. Currently, the 167th AW aircrew use small airstrips in Charleston, S.C., and Lakehurst, N.J., for their most realistic assault landing training. Flight time to either location is approximately 75 minutes.
Using the closer airfield could equate to a cost savings of nearly $1 million annually, according to research by now retired 167th pilot, Lt. Col. Peter Gross.
“That estimate was in 2016, so I’d assume that savings may be even higher now,” explained Master Sgt. Alan Romero, the 167th Airlift Wing airfield manager.
Romero explained that this project began in 2016 as the wing was converting from the C-5 Galaxy aircraft to the C-17 aircraft. The smaller, more agile aircraft meant the pilots would need more specialized training to maximize the C-17’s full capabilities.
Retired Lt. Col. Kevin Bird, previously a pilot for the 167th, was tasked by the National Guard Bureau to research airfields suitable for landing zone operations in 2016.
“Chief Master Sgt. Chanda Keesecker, who has since retired, was the 167th airfield manager in 2016 and she saw the benefit of finding a suitable airfield and she continued the research and networking for this,” Romero said.
The John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority and airport board supports and has approved the use of runway 05/23 as an assault landing zone, but the requirements don’t end there.
“We have been working diligently with the Federal Aviation Administration in obtaining the proper permits to proceed with modifications of design standards to the Johnstown airfield,” Romero said.
One of the military requirements is the installation of visual landing zone marker panels alongside the runway to delineate the landing box and end of the assault runway area.
Romero employed the assistance of the 167th sheet metal shop to design and create panels to meet the engineering criteria.
Master Sgt. Brad Teter, 167th aircraft sheet metal supervisor, said the research for the panels was extensive but once he had a design, Staff Sgt. Doug Miller was able to build the panel prototype within two shifts, using materials that were mostly on-hand.
“Our number one priority is the aircraft and our mission but when time allows, we try to help out with other projects around base. These types of projects keep our guys proficient,” Teter said.
“We have an extremely creative group of folks in our sheet metal shop,” Romero said, adding, “they fabricated these panels, to the millimeter, in-house which increases our cost savings.”
The 911th Airlift Wing based in Pittsburgh, Pa., currently in transition to C-17 aircraft, also sees the benefit of using the Johnstown airfield for its assault landing training.
Romero said he has found a partner in Lt. Col. Thomas Clark with the 911th Operations Group’s, “he’s really become a driver for this project and his proximity to Johnstown really helps.”
It’s difficult to reach over state lines to get some things accomplished, Romero noted, and there are still a number of things that need to be accomplished.
The FAA requires an environmental assessment to study the noise contours of C-17 operations at the airfield and modifications of design standards at the airfield will need to be approved. Reinforced concrete foundations are needed for the visual landing zone marker panels, and the particulars of long-term sustainability will need to be established- including rubber removal and runway repairs.
Romero could not approximate when the project may come to fruition, but said, “every step that we have taken, it makes us feel closer to the end goal which is to provide value to the unit. The airfield management team, we’re committed to keeping this dream alive.”