Airfield managers keep Offutt flying operations safe

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Whether here in America's Heartland or in a barren desert in the middle of Southwest Asia, airfield managers like those assigned to Offutt's 55th Operations Support Squadron are instrumental in our Air Force's ability to "fly, fight and win."

The airfield management team here is responsible for the overall management of the Offutt airfield and provides 55th Wing leadership with the ability to successfully employ air power, by ensuring a safe, efficient and effective airfield environment to support aircraft operations, according Senior Master Sgt. Laura Liedke, airfield manager.

"Offutt's 55th OSS airfield management team is one of the best in the Air Force," Sergeant Liedke said. "They are the focal point for all aircraft that operate in and out of Offutt."

Since the base's airfield is open around the clock, the 12-person team, which is part of 55th OSS's Airfield Operations Flight, runs 24-hour operations - usually running eight-hour day, mid and swing shifts. Each shift is manned by two people who rotate through the various shifts at the end of each week.

Inspections conducted by airfield management professionals are key to keeping the airfield operating safely.

Sergeant Liedke and her team inspect the base's 712-acre airfield - which includes runway, taxiways and parking aprons - each day.

"Inspections are conducted prior to wing flying operations and periodically throughout the day to ensure the area is free of foreign debris," she said.

Foreign debris, or FOD, poses a risk to both aircrew and aircraft because of the serious damage it can cause when ingested by an aircraft engine, Sergeant Liedke explained.

"We regularly check for obstructions on the flightline or taxiways, lights out or anything else that might pose a safety hazard for aircraft taxiing, taking off or landing," added Airman 1st Class Elise Vaughan, airfield management shift lead. "During the winter, for example, we monitor snow berms (or large mounds of snow) to make sure they don't pose hazards along taxiways."

Winter operations have been especially challenging this year due to record snowfalls during December and temperatures averaging well below normal for the area, according to Sergeant Liedke.

"(But) our team, along with the 55th Civil Engineering Squadron's Snow Removal Team, successfully met the challenges and ensured the safety of all Department of Defense aircraft operating in and out of Offutt's airfield," she said. The airfield management team provides oversight of snow removal operations within the flightline area.

"(Snow removal operations) wouldn't have been successful without the hard work and dedication of the 55th CES snow removal team, in particular Billy Becker, Kurtis Kemp and John Feick," the sergeant added.

Sergeant Liedke's team is also a backup for U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel to ensure birds, coyotes, foxes, deer or other "critters" don't interfere with airfield operations.

When not outside monitoring the condition of the flightline area, each two-person shift has plenty of other tasks to keep them busy, including filing flight plans for permanent party and transient aircrews.

"On base flying units fax over their flight plans each morning for us to enter into a data base," Airman Vaughan said. Transient crews must physically take their flight plans to base operations.

At a minimum, flight plans must be filed one hour in advance for stateside flights and two hours for overseas destinations.

"Typically, crews file their plans much earlier than that," Airman Vaughan added.

Once they receive the plans, a member of the airfield management team reviews each plan to make sure appropriate blocks are filled in for items such as weather and reviewing of notices to airmen (or NOTAMS) for example.

"NOTAMS advise of things like inclement weather conditions and taxiway closures," the Airman said, with inputs for the NOTAMS coming from various base agencies through 55th OSS channels.

Only the airfield management team can actually issue NOTAMS for Offutt.

After checking that flight plans are in order, they are entered into the Federal Aviation Association's Aeronautical Information System Replacement, or AIS-R. The system provides a web-enabled, automated means for the collection and distribution of messages and information pertaining to things like flight plans, NOTAMS and pilot reports, or PIREPS, to all FAA air traffic facilities. It also automatically notifies air route traffic control facilities of each aircraft's intended route of travel through their airspace.

Offutt's airspace is covered by the Minneapolis ARTCC which covers 375,000 nautical miles of airspace.

In the event of an emergency on the airfield, airfield management specialists are also the ones that make secondary crash telephone notifications to 12 base agencies, Airman Vaughan said.

Reasons for secondary crash notifications include in-flight or ground emergencies, natural disasters such as a tornado and force protection notifications, said Sergeant Liedke.

While one airfield management specialist is on the telephone, the other is heading outside to respond to the emergency.

With the many facets of the career field, airfield management specialists are busy but consider the job enjoyable, according to Airman Vaughan.

"You get to meet a lot of different people (with the wide variety of transient crews that fly in and out of Offutt)," Airman Vaughan said, "and many of them are fun to work with and lighten the mood."