RAF Lakenheath runway to close for construction, pilots will train elsewhere
Stars and Stripes
RAF MILDENHALL, England — Construction will shut down the sole runway at RAF Lakenheath, but pilots will continue to be able to train at other locations.
Contractors will begin installing the infrastructure for a new runway lighting system on Saturday, said Graham Goldsmith, project manager with the 48th Civil Engineering Squadron. The lighting system will include a high-visibility strobe system, he said.
Normally excavations of a runway can be covered to allow aircraft to land. However, the extent and locations of this work will necessitate a runway closure, Goldsmith said.
“The risk associated with these excavations was deemed to be too high to be able to manage the excavations and keep the airfield open,” Goldsmith said in a phone interview.
Despite the closure of its 9,000-foot runway, Lakenheath plans to continue pilot training. Lt. Col. Chris Russell, commander of the 48th Operations Support Squadron said. Lakenheath pilots will continue to train at a multinational exercise in Norway.
“Honestly, the stars aligned that this exercise is happening just when we’re shutting down our runway … and we’ll continue training at this multinational exercise,” Russell said in a phone interview.
Twelve of Lakenheath’s F-15s will also move to nearby RAF Mildenhall, Russell said.
“About 12 aircraft is the right size that we can maintain a good amount of training, so we can put up four to eight aircraft at a time and we can train against each other,” Russel said.
Lakenheath has had a limited flying schedule this year due to Air Force-wide budget cuts. In April some of its aircraft were placed in the lowest level of readiness or ceased flying.
When they were cleared to fly again in July, Lt. Col. John Orchard, an F-15 squadron commander, said pilots would have to train as much as possible before poor weather and shorter winter days set in.
Goldsmith said work on the lighting infrastructure installation will end on Sept. 29, but that installing the lights will continue until early 2014. The runway is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 1, Russell said.