By ELOISE OGDEN
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Aircraft landing and taking off at Minot AFB will have a completely new runway this fall.
Preparations have been under way for the start of the final phase of the base’s major runway project, a phase that closes down the runway for a time.
On Wednesday morning, the first of several Minot AFB B-52s going to Ellworth AFB in South Dakota left the Minot base. Between 200 and 300 airmen and several Minot AFB planes will temporarily operate out of that base while the Minot base’s runway is closed for reconstruction starting Tuesday.
More planes from the base’s 23rd Bomb Squadron are leaving this week for the South Dakota base.
Earlier, a number of Minot AFB B-52s and 200 to 300 people went to Guam for a scheduled deployment of the base’s 69th Bomb Squadron.
Lt. Col. Dave Gordon, commander of the 5th Operations Support Squadron at Minot AFB, said several aircraft and aircrew members will remain at Minot AFB. “We’ll be able to maintain those in a ready status if we need to use them for any reason,” he said.
Of the Minot base’s about 27 B-52s, others are undergoing normal maintenance at other places.
“Even though we’re closing the runway, we’re not closing the airfield so we’ll continue to operate helicopters out of here supporting the 91st Missile Wing’s nuclear deterrence mission. We’ll continue to support all of the other functions that the 91st Missile Wing does and we’ll continue to have the ability to operate as an airfield at any time that we need,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the major renovation of the runway is being done after the Air Force did a survey of the runway and determined the Minot base had the worst runway in the Air Force.
He said some of the runway is original and nearly 60 years old. “As you can imagine, the winters and the operations we’ve had with all the aircrafts have taken their toll on that pavement so we’re starting to see the results of that and it became unsustainable,” Gordon said.
He said the Air Force decided to make a very large investment in the infrastructure at Minot AFB and completely redo the runway, a project being done over three years so the runway would not be taken out of use all at once.
The west and east ends of the runway were completed during the past two years and while that was being done the planes were able to operate here.
In this final year the center section of the runway now is being completely redone, he said.
“Unfortunately we can’t continue to operate B-52s with the center of the runway missing so we’ll have to take those B-52s and operate them elsewhere while they complete that project,” Gordon said.
Gordon said it’s not common that the Air Force would close down the only runway at one of its Air Force bases.
“This is rather unprecedented for us and we’re making a lot of plans that we haven’t seen repeated at other bases in order to continue to operate and to make sure that we have the capabilities that we need for our infrastructure and to maintain the airpower machine the B-52,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the final phase of runway reconstruction costs $32.8 million. The other two reconstruction phases west and east ends of the runway totaled $23.9 million. He said the center section is a more expensive project because it is longer than the two phases already completed.
Sundt Construction Inc., of Tempe, Ariz., was awarded the more than $32 million project for the final phase of the runway work.
Gordon said the biggest challenge with the B-52s being at other locations is to the families at Minot AFB.
“We’ll continue to operate and fly B-52s. Some of the B-52s we have here at Minot are deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, right now so those folks are separated from their families as they continue to perform their mission in the Pacific. Some of the B-52s will be sent on a temporary duty assignment to Ellsworth AFB and they’ll continue to train and to fly, and they’ll continue to be ready to perform their mission around the globe but that’s seven or eight hours away from family,” Gordon said.
He said the construction contract starts on April 1 and the contractors have until Oct. 1 to complete the work.
Ellsworth AFB “has been fantastic” in making accommodations for the Minot B-52s and people being there temporarily, Gordon said.
He said there hasn’t been any additional costs for Ellsworth AFB for infrastructure to accommodate the B-52s during the temporary assignment. He also said it’s a great opportunity for the Minot AFB B-52 aircrews to train on a daily basis with Ellsworth’s B-2 crews.
If the Minot AFB planes return from the Guam deployment before the runway is completed, they will go to Ellsworth or another base until they can return home.
“We’ll have at the end of this year a brand new runway which hopefully will last us another 50 or 60 years here at Minot Air Force Base,” Gordon said.