AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Fairchild Air Force Base was scheduled to launch nine different KC-135s before the end of day Tuesday, which meant crews needed to act quickly to eliminate icy conditions.
KC-135s can't afford to be late because the flying gas stations put jet fuel in other military aircraft so they can go about their missions without landing.
But before any of the birds can takeoff, Fairchild's civil engineer squadron has to clear the base's 2.5 mile long runway.
“The mid-shift guys were able to get a lot cleaned up, but it did start snowing right when we came on shift, so we're now combating the freezing fog that we had earlier and now snow,” explained SSG. Brian Ellis, 92nd Engineer Squadron.
The average loaded tanker weighs in at about 200,000 lbs., so to make sure the jets can find traction, crews sweep the snow with brooms.
“Because the broom bristles will completely uncover the pavement, whereas our plows ride off of the pavement about an eighth to a quarter of an inch and they don't get down to pavement,” explained Ted Strom, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron.
First, the brooms whisk away the ice and snow. High speed plows blade in up into berms and then a rotary plow tosses the pile off the pavement into what will be some well-watered grass this summer.
“These blowers can throw snow about 200 feet, so we have to have a place to put it, and we've got a lot of wide open spaces on the airfield that will hold that snow,” said Strom.
It's a team effort that keeps tankers flying, including the alert aircraft that have to be ready to launch and refuel the fighters protecting the west coast from hijacked jetliners.
It takes a lot of special equipment to keep Fairchild's runways and taxiways free of snow and ice, but it's an important part of our national defense.