When an Air Force Base has to close its only runway, it’s all hands on deck to make the project go smoothly. For MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, such an event takes place every 15 years or so for preventive maintenance. In 2016, the existing asphalt pavement had endured 16 years of wear; cracks had started to develop. And it’s no wonder. MacDill is the base for the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, which provides airlift, special missions, aerial refueling and aeromedical evacuation for the armed forces. It’s home to 16 KC-135 Stratotankers and three C-37 Gulfstreams. The aircraft use MacDill’s flight line every day. At any point, there will be a steady flow of aircraft departing and landing on the base’s sole runway—Runway 4-22.
It is 9,421 feet long by 151 feet wide, which is approximately 150,000 square yards. The $8.1 million runway resurfacing project was awarded to Danner Construction Company Inc., of Tampa, which served as the general contractor. Turtle Southeast Inc. of Largo, Florida, handled removal of the old surface; Ajax Paving Industries, North Venice, Florida, completed the paving.
According to a MacDill press release Nov. 7, 2016, the project would also see grounding rod installation, sealant repairs to a high-use taxi lane, runway grooving, striping and repainting of airfield markings, a system overhaul of the barrier arresting kits and more. The team was expected to get it all done in 60 days. Turtle Southeast took care of milling in less than five days. The release stated, “As of Oct. 25, 2016, milling, or the removal of a four-inch top layer of pavement, has been completed on MacDill’s entire runway.”
“The challenge we faced was time,” T. Allen Gill said. He’s the general manager with Turtle Southeast. “Our window for milling the entire runway was set at 96 hours.”
To complete the project on time, Turtle assigned much of its equipment and staff to completing the project. The company has 50 employees and a fleet that includes 13 Roadtec milling machines, 13 service trucks, 9 transports, 5 water trucks and a variety of ancillary vehicles.
The total milling depth of the project was 4.25 inches and required a total of 400 machine hours to complete. Turtle milled the first layer of asphalt at 2.25 inches, and then milled the second layer to final grade using a machine-control GPS system.
The company put 30 employees to work on the project and dedicated 8 of its Roadtec RX-700e cold planers to ensure the project was done accurately and within the tight timeframe. Additionally, Turtle Southeast needed to ensure that the milled grade was tight enough that Ajax could achieve finished paving tolerances of ¼-inch or less to meet FAA standards.
“We started milling at 0 hundred hours on Thursday, which gave us until midnight Sunday to finish,” Gill said. “Our crews pulled the nose up on this one and finished it ahead of the projected schedule by 24 hours.
“At some points of this project, we were running the machines 20 hours a day without a single minute of downtime due to our equipment. And I might add, we have some older machines in that group, but they are as reliable as the new ones.”
The RX-700e features a 755-horsepower Caterpillar® engine, and the machines have the exclusive Roadtec Guardian telematics system, which monitors the machine in real time through a wireless signal to address any issues that may arise while working. The telematics system also allows Roadtec service personnel to remotely view the machine in real time. The engine, hydraulic system, electrical system and grade control can all be monitored in detail and adjustments made remotely.
Gill said he likes the layer of security the Guardian system provides, but for the MacDill runway project, there was no need to tap into Guardian.
“If there had been a need, diagnosing a machine equipped with the Guardian system is a quick and efficient process,” Tim Hammer stated. He’s the maintenance supervisor with The Turtle Companies. “The system’s Live Schematics™ lets me see all electrical circuits in a simple and efficient layout with real time status of all switches, valves and settings. If I need to, I can make changes to the system parameters from my laptop without touching the machine.”
Moving all those trucks back and forth took more than the usual fleet management. The U.S. Air Force runway rehab project was under the careful scrutiny of Robert Moore, deputy director of the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron (CE) and his staff, as well as Lt. Col. Chesley Dycus, commander of the 6th Operations Support Squadron. According to the MacDill press release, the 6th Security Forces Squadron provided around-the-clock explosive detection, and screened all the vehicles and equipment.
They conducted background checks on over 1,000 contractors, including issuing base access credentials, according to Dycus.
“Airfield management personnel monitor construction activity and the integrity of airfield criteria,” Dycus reported. “Civil engineers ensure quality assurance and monitor technical and design compliance. Lastly, contracting personnel facilitate communication and forward progress between the contractor and base personnel.”
The short milling timeframe and aggressive pace Turtle Southeast adopted meant minimal sleep and a lot of coffee. Gill remarked that he added up the coffee receipts from the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and it was $400—for the crew, not just for Gill.
“We worked hard on this project and put in some long hours,” Gill stated. “At one point, for a split second, I thought I was dreaming when I looked down the two-mile runway and saw eight Roadtec RX-700e cold planers working simultaneously. But I quickly realized that the beautiful sight was real.”
Gill credited Ajax for its support throughout the project and doing a great job of staging their trucks so the milling could continue uninterrupted. “When we started the day on Saturday morning, there were a total of 130 trucks lined up and waiting to be filled.”
The squadron at MacDill also shared credit for operations. In its press release: “The project would not be possible without the support of MacDill Airmen, Tampa International Airport and Join Base Charleston, South Carolina.” MacDill used the Tampa International Airport and Joint Base Charleston to continue flying its KC-135’s and complete regular missions.
“Despite the construction, MacDill Airmen continue to execute their assigned tasks.”
As Turtle Southeast finished up a few add-on tasks for the MacDill Air Force Base Runway 4-22 project, Gill stated, “The ease of use of our Roadtec milling machines helped us dramatically decrease the amount of time it took to complete this project.”