Team Kingsley moves operations on airfield when taxiway “fails”

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

In the morning, one of the first orders of business for the Supervisor of Flying is to inspect the ramp, taxiways, and runway ensuring the surface is safe for aircraft to operate on.  On June 7, 2023, Col. Jason Nalepa, 173rd Operations Group commander and Supervisor of Flying for that day, completed this task, noting minor wear and damage on Taxiway “F”, which was expected as the taxiway was scheduled for repairs the next year.   

However, a few hours later, that assessment had dramatically altered. 

“I had been watching Taxiway “F” for several months prior to the date of asphalt failure,” said Nalepa. “After the jets taxied, I noticed that the rutting had become more pronounced, and when the jets landed, the south side of Taxiway “F” had developed several potholes, rendering that portion of the taxiway unusable.”

He consulted with his Airfield Management team, Civil Engineering, and the Airport Director of Operations and they decided to attempt operations utilizing only the north portion of the taxiway. 

“That lasted for one more launch before the north side showed the same trend of failure,” said Nalepa. 

Because of construction across the airfield, Taxiway “F” was currently the only useable taxiway for the aircraft to go from the Air National Guard ramp to the end of the runway for takeoff.  Without that taxiway, the F-15s were landlocked.

“Ultimately, it held our daily flying mission in custody and threatened our student training,” said Col. Adam Gaudinski, 173rd Maintenance Group commander. 

With that in mind, leadership gathered to brainstorm a solution.  Ultimately, aircraft were towed to the Northeast civilian ramp, typically used by wildland fire fighting aircraft, and the team was ready to operate in under 12 hours from initial notification of the problem.

“Equipment and temporary facilities had to be setup, grounding rods anchored into the ground, taxiway striping, and additional aircraft tows were all required,” said Gaudinski.  “Countless members across the wing enabled the flying mission to continue, all due to their selfless work ethic.”

Though technically on the same airfield, logistics of people, supplies and equipment had to be coordinated.  Multiple maintenance shops---including Weapons, Avionics, and the Airframe Powerplant General shop (otherwise known as crew chiefs) moved their entire operation to temporary shelters with the aircraft.  Security Forces had to provide a patrol to ensure the security of the aircraft parked in a non-standard location.  Fuel trucks needed access to gas up the aircraft. 

“It takes a team with a Multi-Capable Airman mentality,” said Gaudinski.   “The 270th (Air Traffic Control Squadron) and the 550th (Fighter Squadron) were instrumental in gaining deployable shelters to house Airmen and equipment. On top of that, all other groups chipped in to some extent to make this happen overnight.”

Commander of the 173rd Fighter Wing, Col. Lee Bouma, agrees.  “Really, what it comes down to is it takes the entire team to makes things like this happen…and Kingsley Field has an amazing team.”

Another member of the “team” that made this happen on such a quick turn was the Crater Lake – Klamath Regional airport.  Gaudinski noted that none of this would have been possible without the partnerships and strong relationship the wing has in place with the City of Klamath Falls leadership and airport managers. 

“We need to thank our local airport leaders and managers who worked feverishly to permit us to fly off of the civilian forest fire fighting ramp,” said Gaudinski.  “They are always ready to support us, and that is something we never forget. They are truly one of our Wingmen."

Flight operations continued at the Northeast ramp through June 23, and aircraft were able to return to the Air National Guard ramp after construction on Taxiway “D” was completed, creating a route to the end of the runway. 

“We didn’t even lose one single day of flying throughout any of this because of how flexible our people are and our ability to come up with solutions and implement them the same day,” said Bouma.   “Yes, there is a lot of challenges that came up during this, but nothing that wasn’t solvable immediately.”

Gaudinski echoed that sentiment.  “I am always overwhelmed by this team and the tenacity of our Airmen. There is no other team that I would rather stand side by side with when adversity is present.”