How do you land combat aircraft without a modern runway?

Since Monday, four A-10s from the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron have practiced landing at a Polish airfield at Nowe Miasto that has been decommissioned for years. The runway itself is old and cracked, and conditions at the former Warsaw Pact airfield are spartan.

By having A-10s land at the runway and take off for night operations, the U.S. is showing its NATO allies that it can deploy aircraft anywhere, even in the middle of nowhere. The planes are among 12 A-10s that are on a theater security package deployment to Lask Air Base, Poland.

Air Force Times asked Lt. Col. Ryan Hayde, commander of the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, about the importance of this mission and why the A-10 was tasked with it.

Q1. The airfield did not have a tower or air traffic control. Could you explain how the A-10s were able to land?

A1. The airfield has no control tower. It also has no runway marking or lighting of any kind. Combat Controllers (CCT) are specially trained US Special Operations Forces whose training includes becoming a fully qualified FAA Air Traffic Controller. Their skill set allows them to jump into austere areas, measure the ground density to make sure it can handle the weight of certain aircraft, mark the "runway" and control landings and takeoffs from those locations. We had a CCT team from the 321 Special Tactics Squadron support our landings.

Q2. Did U.S. troops do a FOD walk on the runway, or did they let the debris lay there to simulate battlefield conditions?

A2. Yes, the CCT conducts FOD walks as part of their mission in order to safely land aircraft. The size of the FOD that they would have to clear depends on the type of aircraft that will be landing. A-10s can accept a certain amount of FOD due to the design of our airframe.

Q3. What are the dangers of landing on an austere runway like the one at Nowe Miasto?

A3. Blown tires due to rocks, holes in the runway, slick surfaces, concrete that is disintegrating, etc. Most dangers can cause directional control or stopping issues. There is increased risk anytime you land on an austere field under less-than-ideal conditions. At night those risks are higher due the lack of an instrument approach capability, no airfield lighting, and lack of visual cues around the runway.

Q4. Why is it important to demonstrate that U.S. aircraft are able to land in austere conditions in Eastern Europe?

A4. In any area of the world where the US military might be sent, there are multiple austere landing zones that are not normally accessible to many aircraft. By demonstrating the US capability to put combat aircraft on a dilapidated runway, in the packed sand, or even on dirt shows that we can increase our reach and put more target sets at risk. It is another example of us being forward, ready, now.

Q5. Why was the A-10 selected for the austere landings? Is it safe to say that the A-10 is rugged enough to land in austere conditions, while other U.S. aircraft may require better kept runways?

A5. The A-10 was built for survivability and with that comes an ability to land on austere fields. It has big landing gear, big tires, large speed brakes to help it slow down, high mounted engines that are not very susceptible to FOD, etc. It is the only fighter type aircraft in the US that can land this way. There are other airframes, C-130s for example, that can land on even tougher conditions. It all comes down to how the plane was built.

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