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NEWS | July 12, 2023

203rd RED HORSE tackles runway overrun improvements at BAAF

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Virginia National Guard Airmen assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, 192nd Wing conducted a runway overrun improvement project during their annual training June 5-30, 2023, at the Blackstone Army Airfield near Blackstone, Virginia. 

Working alongside the Fort Barfoot Directorate of Public Works, BAAF staff and civilian contractors, the Airmen helped tear down and rebuild the overrun at one end of an airfield runway, expanding it to meet requirements and creating an improved surface. 

“Runway overruns are required on airports to reduce the risk of aircraft entering unimproved areas in the event of an emergency or poor landing,” said Walter G. Tisdale, the BAAF airfield manager.  “The area is required to be 200 feet in length and paved. Our overruns are less than the required 200 feet and had broken and cracked pavement.”

“The overrun, which is designed to keep probability of serious damage to an aircraft to a minimum in the event that the aircraft runs off the runway during a takeoff or landing or lands short during a landing, was originally 175 feet wide and 160 feet long,” said Master Sgt. Bronn James with the RED HORSE. “Our job was to remove the old and cracking asphalt, extend the overrun an additional 40 feet and lay two inches of asphalt on the new 175x200-foot overrun.”

Using various pieces of engineer equipment, the team began by removing the old overrun surface and grading a larger area to meet overrun guidelines. The engineers then put down a base course of gravel, prepping the new overrun for asphalt paving. 

James said the 203rd specializes in concrete construction, not asphalt paving. So, when the area was ready to be paved, the Airmen worked alongside a local paving company to put down 456 tons of asphalt on top of the 950 tons of base course gravel. The end result was a freshly-paved, level overrun meeting prescribed standards for size. 

The project didn’t come without its challenges, however. The engineers dealt with difficult soil conditions as well as significant weather. 

“Each area that we break ground in has different soils and ground composition that the average 'by the book' training they initially receive may not address,” said James. “With the soils found on Fort Barfoot, ground stabilization was a critical obstacle we had to overcome. Even with the perfect soil, a plan or project can be majorly delayed due to rain, which we experienced a lot of. Although this project was designed for training, standstill due to rain had to be filled with task that help moved the project forward, even if the task was preventative maintenance of the equipment.”

James said the project as a whole was a great experience especially for the unit’s younger Airmen. 

“With any progression with any organization, the individuals who are the most knowledgeable in the career eventually retire leaving gaps in our skill set,” explained James. This deployment for training was an excellent example of giving our new Airmen a practical hands-on project that trains them to deal with obstacles that come with working with the surrounding environment. It teaches them critical problem solving skills, thinking on your feet, future planning while strengthening the skill sets they learned in initial technical school training. Projects like this give move value to those involved than simply 'playing in the dirt.’ Working towards the goal of repairing an active runway not only increases individual effectiveness during wartime operations, but gives them a sense of accomplishment in seeing their efforts come to completion.”


While the Airmen from the 203rd were able to practice their construction skills as well as train on asphalt paving operations, the BAAF and Fort Barfoot benefitted from using a Virginia Air National Guard unit to perform the necessary work. 

“The 203rd RED HORSE performed a top notch construction repair while working with civilian contractors to remove old pavement, properly prepare a new larger area, and lay new material,” said Tisdale. “Using a VNG unit saved the installation thousands of dollars in labor cost and better assured a team with experience. The unit demonstrated a very good level of airfield construction experience from planning, preparation, execution and quality control.”

For James, the entire experience was rewarding on multiple levels. 

“Opposed to calling the project a bust due to weather, my Airmen kept hammering at the project while being able to swivel through several different techniques to finally gain the densities we needed through all the phases of this project. Although we were wet, we were not dishearten throughout the entire mission and kept our eyes on the goal.

“It may sound a bit goofy, but seeing the Airmen interact with our civilian counterparts and really getting into the mix was the most rewarding attribute of this mission,” he added. “Seeing our Airmen becoming go-getters and having the 'can do, will do’ attitude cemented the fact that our legacy of good workmanship without cutting corners will carry on.”

The Blackstone Army Airfield sits adjacent to Fort Barfoot and covers approximately 600 acres and includes a C-17-capable runway and can support a wide variety of manned and unmanned aircraft operations. Tenants of the BAAF include the Virginia National Guard and civilian entities including the Civil Air Patrol, Virginia Wing and UAV Pro. It also hosts other military components and services for training. 

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