WESTFIELD – The new $13.5 million runway at Barnes Regional Airport opened Monday on schedule with five F15 military jets returning to their home at the 104th Air National Guard Fighter Wing.
Maj. David Mendoza said the five screaming Eagles that landed on the reconstructed, concrete and grooved runway came back to Westfield from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. In all, the 104th houses 18 F15s, he said, and the other 13 will return from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee next month.
“The five that came back were from Cape Cod, and the rest are assigned to missions out of Westover,” Mendoza said.
From a construction standpoint, Mendoza said 104th officials are thrilled with the new runway with the greatest advantage being its durability.
“The material that was used is rated for a much longer life that anything previously there,” he said.
Mendoza also said that an official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held next month when federal, state and local authorities will be on hand for the celebration.
The project, announced in July with groundbreaking in August, was financed with $8.7 million in federal funds toward the total $20 million job that in addition to the runway includes auxiliary lighting and concrete pads for the F-15 jets.
Col. Peter T. Green, aircraft maintenance group commander for the 104th Fighter Wing, said the new runway is “critical to our long-term viability and day-to-day training missions and alert for the Northeast corridor.”
“The runway has had repairs, but as we transitioned from an A-10 base to the heavier F-15s that use afterburners, a harder toll was taken on the runway,” he said. “We’re going from lots of asphalt to concrete in key areas that will be able to take the punishment of the F-15s.”
Brian P. Barnes, airport manager, also said the 9,000-foot asphalt runway – longer than 70 percent of all runways in the United States, will be replaced using concrete to better withstand the grueling after-burn of the F-15 aircraft. In addition, the runway will be grooved to reduce hydroplaning and increase traction.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, who sponsored the legislation for the federal grant, said of the $20 million, $9 million is coming from the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft fuel taxes, $4.6 million from the Department of Defense, $665,000 from the state and $218,000 from Westfield, an expenditure approved by the City Council in May.
The support from the federal government, Neal added, highlights the important role the 104th Fighter Wing plays in the region’s local economy.
“I sponsored the legislation and based it on the support from the DOD (Department of Defense),” Neal said. “Barnes is an economic engine here. This is a big deal.”
The airport, its manager said, serves 150 private airplanes, 22 military jets and supports corporate aircraft that fly in and out on a regular basis, making for 65,000 takeoffs and landings per year with only 16 percent of that from the military.