Seamless runway impresses test pilot at Garfield County Regional Airport

Open house October 23 will allow access to the new runway by the public

September 18, 2010

Being on a roll is great at the Garfield County Regional Airport in Rifle, Colorado, where six straight days and nights in the hot sun rolling asphalt has resulted in possibly the most perfect runway ever developed in Colorado. The timing was just right for the paving of the new runway at the airport, and the result was a seamless runway. All of the regular interruptions that cause concern for runway reconstructions never surfaced – not bad weather, not trucking delays, not paver breakdowns, not human error, not even Murphy’s Law intervened for six beautiful September days.

“This is the smoothest runway I have ever landed on,” said Jamie Edwards, research engineer, Russ College of Engineering and Technology Avionics Engineering Center at Ohio University. After 25 years of flying and 7500 hours logged, Edwards is a very seasoned pilot, and the first to land at the Garfield County Regional Airport. He was flying a Beech Baron test plane September 12, 2010, reviewing the instrument approach system for the newly reconstructed runway, to be sure it is safe for the public. This was the first flight check for the runway, the second is scheduled for October 4.

The continuous paving process meant no traverse joints were created, which cause jolts for aircraft landings. “Planes land at our airport at speeds of 135-160 miles per hour, said Brian Condie, Garfield County Regional Airport director. “At these speeds, every little bump on the runway causes a jolt when landing, but ours is seamless. We were so excited, the employees gathered at the end of the runway to cheer on the asphalt roller on its final path to finish our seamless runway!”

The public can legally get on the new runway for a couple of hours at an upcoming event. It will let the community preview the airport before its grand opening November 18, when the airport reopens to flight traffic. People can come out and walk or bike on the runway October 23, from 10 a.m.-noon, and then from noon-2 p.m. there will be rides offered up and down the runway, compliments of Preferred Limousine. The Garfield County Commissioners will cook hot dogs and brats at the event, in celebration of the Rifle airport’s 85th anniversary. In 1925 several aircraft flew into Rifle and the event was captured by a photographer. That photograph is now in the collection of the Colorado Historical Society. By special permission, a limited number of t-shirts with an image of the planes that day in 1925 will be available to the first 500 guests that arrive for the open house on October 23.

Still needing completion before the opening are painting, runway lights and taxiway lights. Also, reseeding will be done following months of extensive dirt work to build up the runway.

“It’s been really good to be at the helm since the beginning of this project,” says Condie. “Eight years into it I have seen everything happen, so it’s great to get the airport up and running. Most airport managers don’t get the chance to get to do such an extensive project, or to rebuild the entire runway like we did here, so I am very excited for November 18!”

The airport reopens the weekend before Thanksgiving, and Condie expects an influx of jet traffic for ski season. “We have seen pilots flying over the airport, 50 feet above the runway to get a look at the new approaches,”said Condie, “so we know there is a lot of interest out there in what we have been doing.”