JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – After a year of construction, Ascension Island Auxiliary Airfield resumed full flight operations recently with the opening of the newly paved eastern portion of the runway.
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, spearheaded by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the first aircraft landed on the freshly paved surface Aug. 31.
“This significant milestone demonstrates AFCEC’s commitment, hard work, effective leadership and collaboration with multiple stakeholders to provide robust infrastructure to keep the Air and Space Force missions in flight,” said Lt. Col. Gary Moore, deputy director of AFCEC’s Facilities Engineering Directorate.
Construction now transitions to phase three of the project – the western side of the runway – on the remote, British-owned island that supports military missions and commercial flights.
The outpost, located between South America and Africa, is a critical air transport hub for passengers and cargo and the airbridge to the Falkland Islands for Britain’s Royal Air Force missions.
The $309 million project is a jointly funded investment by the U.S. and British governments that requires AFCEC on-site presence to keep construction moving on schedule.
Since February 2022, Maj. Harrizon Sanchez, an AFCEC project manager, has led the work on-site and successfully carried the first half of the runway construction over the finish line.
“It took a combined effort with our mission partners to solve many critical challenges and achieve a lot of milestones over the last six months to get this project to the half-way point,” Sanchez said.
Thanks to AFCEC’s collaborative work approach, teamwork, consistency, and day and night work shifts, Sanchez said paving was completed 14 days ahead of schedule.
Capt. Corey Pinsonneault, a training officer and aircraft commander with the 21st Airlift Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, was at the controls of a C-17 Globemaster III, the first aircraft that landed on Ascension’s newly paved runway.
“The runway looked really nice and was smooth during the landing,” the captain said. “The crew and I had to do two low passes to check out the airfield for the Federal Aviation Administration flight inspector who was onboard, so I got a great look at the airfield. It looks great overall and will be even better once the entire length is opened up again.”
The C-17 is one of the few aircraft in the world able to fly the distance to Ascension and then land and take off on the available runway length, Pinsonneault said.
“Currently, we have to make a fuel stop after takeoff in order to fly back to the states or even to most of Europe, due to the decrease runway length,” he said. “Once it’s increased to its original size you’ll start to see many other types of aircraft landing at Ascension and be able to depart directly to their final destination without needing a fuel stop in between, both saving time and money for everyone involved."
With the eastern half of the runway up and running, demolition of the western half begins in the coming weeks.
The milestones to accomplish the second half are similar to the previous phases before the final FAA inspection and turning the runway over to its U.S. Space Force mission, supported by the Space Launch Delta 45 at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida.
“We learned a great deal from the eastern-side construction and hope to expedite the demolition work and the sub-base rebuild on the western side, allowing us to turn the completed airfield back to the host nation and the Space Force earlier than planned,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez is now transitioning back to San Antonio and the new AFCEC program manager, Maj. Adam Coomber, is already on site.
“I look forward to engaging with the contractors, the Space Force and British partners to make this project a success,” Coomber said.
Reflecting on his time on the island, Sanchez called the experience both challenging and enjoyable.
“I feel proud and accomplished, seeing the project turn from gravel to an operational runway,” Sanchez said.