MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 finished constructing a new unmanned aircraft systems runway at the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Calif., Sept. 21, 2009.
The runway is the first built specifically for UASs on the station’s ranges and will open up new training opportunities for Marine unmanned aerial vehicle squadrons participating in future Weapons and Tactics Instructor courses.
MWSS-374, from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., built the runway as a pretraining mission before WTI, which the squadron participated in as soon as the project was completed.
Before the runway was constructed, UAS squadrons were limited to the Tactical Aircrew Combat Training System airfield on the Barry M. Goldwater Range, east of Yuma.
“The Marine Corps’ main UAS is the RQ-7B Shadow, which needs a runway to land,” said Maj. Chris Coble, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 UAS division head. “Because of airspace restrictions, we couldn’t get the Shadow out to the Chocolate Mountain range for those exercises, so those Marines were missing out on that training.”
While the squadrons were still able to train at the TACTS range, the more valuable training takes place at the Chocolate Mountains.
“It’s good training (at the Goldwater range), but the Chocolate Mountain range is better because it’s an actual live ordnance range,” said Coble. “At the Barry M. Goldwater Range, you cannot employ large ordnance. They’re restricted to inert ordnance. This runway is going to increase our training potential dramatically for VMUs for WTI.”
Construction of the 75-by-1,000-foot strip began Sept. 14, with 28 MWSS-374 Marines and six heavy construction vehicles assigned to the project.
Two 50-by-100-foot pads were also built at the center of the runway’s length on each side. These pads will be used for the Shadow’s crossbow-like UAS launcher and the ground support post where the Marines will control the UAS.
“We started out by knocking down berms, hills – the big stuff – trying to get it pretty much level so we could start building it up,” said Sgt. Kardell Anderson, MWSS-374 project supervisor for the runway. “It’s a pretty simple project. The hardest part is staying within the boundaries. In Iraq, this is what we did most of the time.”
Once the ground was cleared, Anderson drove a grater to smooth and level the strip.
With the strip prepared for building, MWSS-374 laid a foundation using rocks from the surrounding area.
“We used the rock to make a solid sub-base to build up from,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Patrick Korn, MWSS-374 heavy equipment platoon commander. “We layered the materials we had and gave them the best product we could.”
Layers of dirt were added on top of the rocks and packed in. More layers were added until the strip was the desired height. The runway was built up approximately 18 inches higher than the surrounding area to allow for runoff, minimizing future rain damage.
To finalize the project, the Marines applied a layer of adhesive construction material, better known as “rhino snot,” over the entire strip to bind and protect it from the elements.
The Twentynine Palms-based VMU-1 will be the first squadron to use the runway in their training during the current WTI.
The runway, however, is not built to support all unmanned aerial systems. Due to its lightweight, simple construction, the runway cannot support any systems larger than the Shadow, nor can it support any manned aircraft.