By Darrell Todd Maurina
Thanks to extra funding provided by Congress on Wednesday, Cannon Air Force Base will be able to replace some World War II-era buildings and add more runway lighting to improve pilot safety.
The work will be in addition to upgrades the base has been doing all year.
New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, ranking Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee, announced that the Senate had succeeded in obtaining $9 million in additional funding for Cannon, beyond President George W. Bush’s original defense budget request. The proposal wasn’t in the version passed by the House of Representatives, but House and Senate appropriators agreed on Nov. 4 to include the Cannon project.
Wednesday’s Senate vote sent the entire 2004 military spending bill to the White House for Bush’s signature, which is expected.
Domenici, the only member of the New Mexico congressional delegation to serve on an appropriations committee, said $1.3 million will be used to improve lighting on a Cannon runway and $7.7 million will be used to construct an aerospace ground equipment (AGE) complex.
Lt. Col. John Bower, commander of Cannon’s 27th Civil Engineer Squadron, said the new construction is badly needed.
“AGE support is in four different buildings; two of the buildings are so bad we’re going to just demolish them when we get the new buildings built,” Bower said. “The roofs leak, they have old siding that is literally falling apart. The windows don’t seal despite every effort to maintain them.”
Bower said the problem wasn’t poor construction but rather that the buildings were a rush job in the middle of World War II.
“The buildings were built essentially as temporary construction; they weren’t intended to last 60 years,” Bower said. “It was intended to be five-year construction.”
Somewhat like a massive utility shed, an AGE complex houses equipment needed to support flying operations. Bower said a plane preparing to take off first needs to receive an electric boost from a “start cart” that is housed in the AGE complex. Other items in the AGE complex include heaters, light carts, and some defueling equipment.
“Essentially everything you need to support maintenance and generation of electricity is there,” Bower said.
Not only do the buildings leak, they’re also at least 25 percent too small for current operations. Originally designed for propeller planes, Bower said the buildings don’t have basic items such as wash racks and covered storage that have been standard for many years at modern jet aircraft facilities.
While less urgent, the runway lighting upgrades are a significant safety issue, Bower said. Cannon has two runways, one running approximately north-south and the other used for takeoffs during crosswinds and when the main runway is shut down for construction. Night training without approach lights can be hazardous and the $1.3 million lighting project will make that training less hazardous.
Other recent and ongoing Cannon projects include a new control tower completed this past spring, a security forces building that should be ready by early to mid-2004, a new fire crash rescue station expected to be ready in January, and major repair projects on the ramps, airfield lighting and taxiways. Those projects cost an estimated $40 million, Bower said.