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Runway to close, more than aircraft moving

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- The 48th Civil Engineering Programs Team is heading a project which will resurface 75 percent of the runway here between May 14th and June 14th.

This year's project, costing more than $4 million dollars, is the second stage of a three-stage, multi-year project set to refurbish the runway.

"Because the airfield surface is over 15 years old and degrading, we need to bring it back up to friction specifications so aircraft aren't sliding about on it and it [properly drains water]," said Steve Harvey, 48th Civil Engineering Squadron Programs Flight chief.

The runway's surface is made out of open textured asphalt called porous friction course, which is a special asphalt mix that allows rain water to seep in and drain away, keeping the surface of the runway as dry as possible for aircraft to take off and land on. As the runway gets older, this open texture starts to clog up preventing the rainwater from seeping in. The water then starts to puddle on the surface, which is dangerous for aircraft.

While the runway is being repaired, flying operations will be moved to RAF Mildenhall, but the move will include more than aircraft. The entire support system for them will have to be moved also. This includes maintenance and support personnel, equipment, hazardous materials and the aircraft themselves.

The 492nd Fighter Squadron and 56th Rescue Squadrons are deployed and the 493rd Fighter Squadron is in Bulgaria, the 494th Fighter Squadron has just returned from Afghanistan and will be a majority of those operating out of RAF Mildenhall. While some aircraft will be left here for maintenance and training purposes, the rest will temporarily move.

Capt. Pascual Zamudio is the chief of wing training for the 48th Fighter Wing. He's a pilot and flew one of the aircraft to RAF Mildenhall last week.

"We're moving there so we can maintain our high state of readiness and our pilot proficiencies," he said. "It presents some logistical and operating challenges, but they aren't anything we can't handle."

He continued to discuss how the movement of the aircraft themselves was a rather simple process. They planned the moves around the training schedule, so a pilot would take off and complete a normal training mission and then instead of landing at RAF Lakenheath, they would land at RAF Mildenhall and the move, for them, was complete.

"We're trying to maximize every opportunity we get to train," he said.

Although moving the aircraft was simple, the support structure required to keep them flying was much more complicated and time consuming. Enter the 48th Logistics Readiness Squadron. The basic mission of LRS revolves around the movement of personnel and equipment. It ranges from getting parts, to providing fuel to the F-15s and anything in between. They aren't limited to supporting the flying mission though; they support the entire 48th Fighter Wing operation here.

To keep aircraft in the air, they require maintainers, operators, fuel, equipment, parts and a laundry list of other nouns, which could go on for pages. This has all been moving to RAF Mildenhall, via LRS, since April 19.

"So far we've moved 20, 40-foot trailer loads of equipment and supplies to RAF Mildenhall to support the mission," said Tech. Sgt. Clyde Frideger, 48th LRS vehicle operations control center supervisor. "It equals about 500,000 pounds of cargo so far and we probably still have 10 more truckloads to go."

It's not as simple as throwing a box on a trailer and driving away though. Equipment, such as the tow vehicles used to move the aircraft around on the ground, must be inspected before they ever go to RAF Mildenhall.

"This is to ensure they won't break down when they're over there," Tech. Sgt. Frideger said.

They also have to ensure every safety precaution is being taken. Some of the equipment being used, such as oxygen bottles, are hazardous, and only certified drivers are allowed to drive them on local roadways. That's only a small example. Big examples are fuel trucks. It's inefficient to throw a 6,000 gallon fuel truck on a trailer, so six of them were driven to RAF Mildenhall in a convoy last week.

"They were all drained prior to them being moved, but there's still residual fuel in them so they're considered hazardous," said Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Janssen, the superintendent of the Fuels Management Flight, 48th LRS. "We had to work through USAFE, the Ministry of Defence and local police to gain the appropriate approvals to drive them over."

Now at RAF Mildenhall, the fuels troops are "integrating with the fuels flight there and becoming part of their family," he said.

The fuels troops aren't the only ones becoming part of the RAF Mildenhall family. Many aircraft and equipment maintainers will be working daily alongside their RAF Mildenhall brothers and sisters.

The Aerospace Ground Equipment flight has sent 25 percent of its personnel to RAF Mildenhall to support the F-15s on the ground. They will be working out of the AGE facilities there and once flight operations begin, the number of personnel is expected to top 40 percent.

"I've been working very closely with the AGE superintendents over there and they've been a huge help and made it really easy on us," said Master Sgt. Mike Mortimer the AGE Flight Chief for the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron.

Along with the personnel, the AGE flight teamed up with LRS to ship 90 pieces of ground equipment to RAF Mildenhall in three phases.

"We couldn't send all of the equipment at once because it would have negatively impacted the mission here, so we had to account for local operations when determining the best way to support the operations out of RAF Mildenhall," he said.

The temporary move to Mildenhall will last until the flight line repairs are completed here June 14, then, "when the runway reopens we'll be doing this all over again to bring everything back," Tech. Sgt. Frideger said.

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