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Posted 2/18/2017

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By Marie Darling
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Public Affairs

A McChord Air Force Base C-17 Globemaster III, a heavy military transport aircraft, recently made the first landing on the newly constructed Phoenix runway in Antarctica.  

The Phoenix is a uniquely designed runway, located near McMurdo Station, which uses compacted deep-snow. The new runway will soon replace the 26-year-old, CRREL-designed Pegasus glacial ice runway, which was determined by the National Science Foundation as having reached the end of its useful life.  

A reliable wheeled-runway is vital to NSF for executing its research mission in Antarctica for providing critical transport between McMurdo Station and New Zealand.  

The Phoenix runway is a collaboration between CRREL’s Engineering for Polar Operations, Logistics and Research team and NSF’s Office of Polar Programs.  The Phoenix runway required novel design and snow construction techniques, and the development of unique certification standards. 

“This novel runway design and construction took more than 16 continuous months to complete,” said Terry Melendy, a CRREL research civil engineer. “The runway was designed using a compaction technique to modify the deep snow using heavy rollers weighing up to 160,000 pounds, to change the snow’s strength properties from its natural state creating a denser, higher strength snow foundation (32 inches deep) that can withstand the impact of a C-17 landing. And, in this particular case, the Phoenix was designed to withstand approximately 60 wheeled flights a year.” 

CRREL Research Civil Engineers George Blaisdell and Melendy working in the field had daily reach-back assistance from colleagues Drs. Robert Haehnel and Sally Shoop, located back at the lab in Hanover, New Hampshire. 

According to Maggie Knuth, operations manager for the NSF-managed Antarctic Program, as reported in the Antarctic Sun, “After three-plus years of preparation, it was very satisfying to see the hard work and planning of so many come together.”

Throughout design and construction, the team maintained close liaison with Air Mobility Command standards and evaluation personnel and with the Air Force’s Antarctic C-17 flight group.

“The runway was certified in the field for heavy, wheeled aircraft by the Air Mobility Command,” said Melendy. “With the successful completion of the Phoenix runway, we have done something that no one else has done.”

crrel ERDC nsf Phoenix Airfield USACE