Globemaster is first to land on new Antarctic deep-snow runway

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Public Affairs
Published Feb. 18, 2017
Phoenix Runway engineers take time to cheer their engineering success!  From left is U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory Research Civil Engineer Terry Melendy, with National Science Foundation Operations Manager and former CRREL Engineer Maggie Knuth, and CRREL Research Civil Engineer George Blaisdell. The researchers and NSF operations manager recently completed a deep-snow, wheeled aircraft runway capable of landing heavy cargo planes safely. “With the successful completion of the Phoenix runway, we have done something that no one else has done, said Melendy.”

Phoenix Runway engineers take time to cheer their engineering success! From left is U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory Research Civil Engineer Terry Melendy, with National Science Foundation Operations Manager and former CRREL Engineer Maggie Knuth, and CRREL Research Civil Engineer George Blaisdell. The researchers and NSF operations manager recently completed a deep-snow, wheeled aircraft runway capable of landing heavy cargo planes safely. “With the successful completion of the Phoenix runway, we have done something that no one else has done, said Melendy.”

A McChord Air Force Base C-17 Globemaster III, a cargo and transport aircraft used by air forces around the world, takes flight from the new Antarctic deep-snow runway, the Phoenix, during a test run.

A McChord Air Force Base C-17 Globemaster III, a cargo and transport aircraft used by air forces around the world, takes flight from the new Antarctic deep-snow runway, the Phoenix, during a test run.

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Terry Melendy recently measures aircraft wheel friction patterns between takeoffs and landings left by the heavy C-17s on the newly constructed Phoenix runway in Antarctica.

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Terry Melendy recently measures aircraft wheel friction patterns between takeoffs and landings left by the heavy C-17s on the newly constructed Phoenix runway in Antarctica.

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.”


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