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Posted 6/19/2015

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By Megan Holland, ERDC Public Affairs


VICKSBURG, Miss. – The landscape of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) looks a bit different these days. After more than seven decades as home to airfields and pavements research, Hangar 4 was recently demolished to clear a space for ERDC’s new headquarters building. Bidding farewell to the easily-recognizable structure, which was located in the middle of campus, marks both the end of an era and the beginning of a new one as the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) Airfields and Pavements Branch (APB) takes up residence in Hangar 2.

Outgoing APB Branch Chief Dr. Gary Anderton, who has accepted a new position as director of ERDC’s Human Capital Office, said he will miss Hangar 4 because of the personal nostalgia attached to the facility but is also excited to see what’s ahead for the larger and newly renovated Hangar 2.

“My fondest memories related to Hangar 4 involve the countless times I was able to show tour groups or VIP visitors what we were doing at the time in that test facility,” said Anderton. “It gave me a chance to show my pride for the great people and the great work there, to pay homage to the history of that facility and the decades of important research conducted there and to point out the importance of airfields and pavements physical modeling efforts.

“I look forward to tracking the future work in Hangar 2,” Anderton continued. “I’m sure that continual changes in pavement materials, technologies, instrumentation and testing capabilities will improve the way we uniquely evaluate full-scale pavement test sections.”

Pavement testing in Hangar 4 began in the early 1940’s with research and development efforts that were applied throughout WWII, including the conception of Pierced Steel Plank Pavement. By the 1950’s, the technology that helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was largely obsolete and efforts expanded to accommodate larger aircraft, augmented compaction requirements, high-pressure tires and more. Results were applied in conflicts in Korea, Europe and Asia, as well as Vietnam, a war that resulted in a massive increase in expedient surfacing research around the mid-1960’s.

Over the coming decades, Hangar 4 researchers went on to develop improved landing mats; advanced methods of soil stabilization using chemicals; Membrane-Enveloped Soil Layers; Multiple-Wheel Heavy Gear Load pavement tests; the MX Road Design Criteria Study; accelerated pavement testing; expedient road surfacing; rapid runway repair methods; and more. They worked with new construction techniques and materials and created groundbreaking evaluation concepts and procedures, over time establishing themselves among the world’s top leaders in airfields and pavements research.

Dr. Al Bush, a former research civil engineer, worked in Hangar 4 from 1968 until he retired in 2007.

“I remember it being the coldest place in Vicksburg during the winter and hot and dusty during the summer,” said Bush. “It was always interesting when we built new test sections to see what the foundation would be six to eight feet below the surface; in some cases it was water or remnants of older tests. I knew at the time how important our work was – we were conducting leading edge research on airfields and pavements and wanted to make sure it was the best that could be done.”

Bush, who says he saw ERDC’s contributions in support of the nation and the Warfighter and knew it was a great place to work, decided he wanted to continue to help the organization after retirement if he could. Returning as the director of ERDC’s Graduate Institute, he had the unique privilege of continuing to watch progress within the structure he called home for so long – right down to the close of its final chapter.

“In my nearly 50 years here, Hangar 4 has had the most work of any of the hangars,” said Bush, who will retire from ERDC for the second time on June 30.  “There is a legacy that goes back to the 1940’s, when the largest growth in history of aircraft occurred, and that made it hard to say goodbye. However, Hangar 2 looks like a great improvement on facilities and I believe it will be able to sustain the critical research needs of the future.”

In comparison, Hangar 2 offers 70,760 square feet of research space versus Hangar 4’s 53,070. The structure was completely updated prior to officially becoming home to the APB Pavement Test Facility on April 27 of this year, and five test sections are scheduled to be completed over the next six months. A recent dedication held for Hangar 2, complete with a ribbon cutting and tours of the facility, provided the perfect opportunity for current and former employees alike to reminisce about the “good old days” while ushering in an exciting new phase in airfields and pavements research.

“The people in the ERDC-GSL Airfields and Pavements Branch are, without a doubt, the best at what they do,” said Anderton. “Even more importantly, they do not take this for granted. They strive to get better in their work each and every day. It was a great privilege to work in and lead this organization, and I look forward to many more years of witnessing and supporting excellence throughout the entire ERDC team.”