Sunday, October 25, 2015

Coming to fruition: Enid Woodring Regional Airport (KWDG), Enid, Garfield County, Oklahoma

Dan Ohnesorge, the airport manager at Enid Woodring Regional Airport discusses the runway extension project Tuesday, October 13, 2015

About three and a half years ago, a looming need on the part of the Air Force sparked a request for assistance from the city of Enid that has turned into a project that will benefit both entities.

Friday morning a ceremony officially will open that project, the lengthening of the main runway at Enid Woodring Regional Airport to 8,000 feet.

That will give Woodring the longest civilian runway in northwest Oklahoma, and a runway longer than the longest one at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

In 2011, then-Vance wing commander Col. Russ Mack met with Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison, and then-city manager Eric Benson, about the possibility of the city extending the runway before the outside runway at Vance Air Force Base was to be shut down for replacement.

The outside runway is the one primarily used by T-38s, the swept-wing jets used to train fighter and bomber pilots. With the length of Woodring’s runway at the time, T-38s were unable to safely take off from and land there, and instead would have to divert to Tinker Air Force Base, or the airports in Wichita, Kan., Tulsa or Oklahoma City, in case of bad weather or emergency.

The longer runway would allow T-38s to fly into or out of Woodring. It also would enable private jets to take on a full load of fuel before taking off from Enid’s airport. That wasn’t an option with the shorter runway. In addition, said Dan Ohnesorge, manager of Enid Woodring Regional Airport, T-1s, the military’s version of a corporate jet that is used to train tanker and airlift pilots, required a waiver to operate on Woodring’s shorter runway.

“You ask any pilot, and especially a jet pilot, longer is always better,” said Ohnesorge. “You have more options when you have more concrete in front of you.”

So Cooper met with Terry Yonkers, then-assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, and Kathleen Ferguson, his deputy at the time, and asked them whether they wanted the city to pursue the project.

“I told him we wanted to help, but we didn’t want to do this just for a temporary deal,” said Cooper. “But if it would help them increase their mission and reduce costs, fine. He said it would give them a lot of options to do a lot of things.”

“We kind of knew the answer already, but I think we needed to hear it officially from them,” said Ohnesorge, “and the answer was absolutely yes.”

From there, Cooper met with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and convinced her to make the project the state’s No. 1 military project. That opened the door for the city receiving money from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission.

Funding for the project, which is expected to total more than $10 million when the final costs are tallied, also came from the Federal Aviation Administration. In the end the city’s investment in the runway will be around $3 million, said Enid Mayor Bill Shewey.

“There are about five different areas that the money has come from,” Shewey said. “In the long run it is a definite asset for the city of Enid.”

Col. Clark Quinn, who is now 71st Flying Training Wing Commander at Vance, was enthusiastic about the project from the outset of his tenure here.

“From a wing commander here with an airport five miles away that two of the three airplanes can land at, having an ability to land all three airplanes there is phenomenal,” said Quinn. “Not so much for normal operations, which we do use it for, but it’s also for emergency situations. It really is a huge help to our operations.”

The date for closing Vance’s outside runway has not been set, Quinn said, but replacement work is expected to begin sometime in 2016.

“When that does happen we’ll go down to one runway here that the T-38 can use,” said Quinn. “That’s when it really becomes convenient to have an 8,000-foot runway across town.”

It isn’t likely that the T-38s will routinely use Woodring, as the Talons’ final approach speed is much different than other aircraft using the airport — three times faster than a Cessna and nearly twice as fast as a T-6.

“The operations wouldn’t mesh together with a single runway,” Quinn said.

Col. John Cinnamon, commander of Vance’s 71st Operations Group, called the project “A great partnership between us and the city of Enid, and especially Woodring. It creates a very safe runway for us to land at, right next door if we have an emergency.”

Woodring employees will be trained on receiving, refueling and launching T-38s.

“I think that’s an indication of the partnership,” said Quinn.

The project was initially designed to push the runway’s length to 7,600 feet, the maximum length possible without re-routing Southgate Road south of the airport. But the plan was changed to extend the runway to 8,000 feet and re-route a section of Southgate. Moving the road also required the city to purchase about 100 acres of land south of the airport. Some $500,000 to pay for moving the road came from the Oklahoma Transportation Commission.

The primary contractor on the runway project was TTK Co. of Edmond. Moving of the navigation aids was done by Rural Electric Inc. of Mesa, Ariz. CEC Infrastructure Solutions of Oklahoma City was the project’s consulting engineering firm.

The longer runway is expected to increase the amount of fuel sold at Woodring, which could attract corporate jets flying cross-country because fuel costs are cheaper here than at the airports in Oklahoma City or Tulsa. It also is expected to be an economic development tool for the city, helping attract companies to relocate here.

“It is a good economic measure for us,” said Shewey. “It’s going to be a good long-term asset for the city.”

The project has been a long journey, Ohnesorge said, requiring the city and the airport to jump through “about a million,” hoops, which he refers to as “science projects.”

 “It’s been a little frustrating at times, but I think it will be quite gratifying when we cut that ribbon and see two T-38s fly overhead and land,” Ohnesorge said.

“This has been a great project,” said Cooper. “It has been Ohno’s and my life for the last three and a half years. It’s like building your house, you can’t get away from it, it’s just there. But it will be one of the most gratifying things to see.”

“I never really got frustrated that it took so long,” said Shewey. “The end result is what I was really looking forward to.”

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