This article was written by  SMSgt Kevin Monkman (HQ AFCESA/CEOF) and Mr. Preston Benedyk (HQ AFCESA/CEOF) in Vol. 12 No. 3 2003 edition of the Air Force Civil Engineer publication and discusses the use of runway rubber removal on Air Force runways.

[pullquote align=”right” type=”simple”]The team uses a biodegradable detergent, Avion 50, to remove the rubber buildup and other contaminants. They’ve tried other removal products, but have found Avion 50 to be the most effective. [/pullquote]

Every time a fighter aircraft or cargo plane lands, its tires deposit rubber onto the runway surface—approximately 1 to 1.5 pounds per tire per landing. These rubber deposits build up and eventually fill in the micro-texture of the pavement, creating a smooth, almost glass-like surface that can make aircraft landing and stopping difficult or even dangerous, particularly in wet conditions. Removing this build-up off of a base’s runway surfaces is civil engineering’s job.

“When an aircraft lands, the friction between the tires and the airfield surface creates thousands of pounds of pressure,” explained Mr. Rodney Martens, a technician with the 28th CES’s Horizontal Section at Ellsworth AFB, S.D. “The heat generated polymerizes the rubber, turning the deposits from the soft, flexible tire into a very hard material spread in thin layers on about 1,000 feet of the runway.”

Ellsworth was one of the first bases to try in-house rather than contracted airfield rubber removal. “We’ve been doing it twice a year, every year, for approximately 16 years,” said Mr. Richard Grueschow, Horizontal Superintendent for the 28th CES.

After years of working together, Ellsworth’s rubber-removal team has developed the skills and knowledge to make them a valuable training resource. Experts from Headquarters Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency at Tyndall AFB, Fla., joined with experts from the 28th CES to develop a Web-based training program on airfield rubber removal. The training is for anyone who has the responsibility of ensuring the
safe operations of the airfield landing surface—at home station or at locations in the area of responsibility.

Typically, the areas to be cleaned are the touch-down zones on both ends of the runway, each about 50´ wide by 2,000´ long. The primary instrument approach end usually contains the heavier build up of the two. A runway is usually cleaned incrementally, 10,000 sq. ft. at a time, but smaller increments are often used, depending on weather conditions (wind speed, humidity and temperature) or available personnel and
equipment. A trained crew can clean 10,000 to 30,000 sq. ft. per hour.

The team uses a biodegradable detergent, Avion 50, to remove the rubber buildup and other contaminants. They’ve tried other removal products, but have found Avion 50 to be the most effective. The detergent comes in 55-gallon drums and is transferred into a standard water truck, which most equipment shops have. “The detergent causes no damage to the equipment, including rubber tires, hoses, or gaskets,” said MSgt Todd Pallas, the Horizontal Sections Non-commissioned Officer-inCharge. “We make sure that personnel use the proper personal protective equipment,
such as rubber gloves, splash-proof eye protection, full-face shields, and plastic aprons.”

The application rate ranges from 55 gallons per 10,000 square feet for severe build up to as little as 10 to 20 gallons per 10,000 square feet for maintenance cleaning. “Water is the key element in the cleaning process,” said Mr. Martens. “The repetitious process of applying water, detergent, additional water, then scrubbing, applying more water and detergent and then more scrubbing, throughout the cleaning procedure results in a more effective cleaning process. A rich, thick foam should be produced while scrubbing; the lack of this foam usually means that the surface is too dry.” It takes about 1,500 gallons of fresh water for every 10,000 square feet of cleaning to flush the surface. Ellsworth uses a water tanker with a 4-inch drain valve for rinsing off the area. Brooms follow closely behind the tanker, moving the residue off the edge of the runway surface. The rinsing continues until the area is clean.

“Since we’re a northern tier installation, we use our snow brooms for scrubbing the airfield surface,” said Mr. Tim Scott, shop foreman for the Horizontal Section. “Other equipment can be used, such as a front-end loader or skid-steer loader with the optional broom attachment or a tractor with a kick broom, either the front-mounted type or the towed sweeper. With smaller equipment, it’s important to ensure that the operator is protected from the splashing of the detergent.”

After a final inspection to ensure that all the standing water has been removed and a runway conditions test by base operations, the cleaned area is ready for more landings.