Airport Citadel graduates show off taxiway expansion,
help new generation of cadets become leaders, engineers
With the roar of aircraft surrounding them, 11 cadets and veteran students from The Citadel stood on Taxiway Alpha studying how Charleston International Airport is improving its infrastructure to support a rapidly growing Lowcountry aviation industry.
“I’m trying to shoot for a Boeing internship this summer to work on the construction side of things; building planes and to see what they’re made of, so seeing how the airport and control tower works goes hand and hand,” said Cadet Cody Floyd.
For weeks the junior Civil Engineering major from Georgetown, S.C., had anticipated the Nov. 3 trip, which was made possible by Citadel graduates working at the airport.
“This was a unique chance for the cadets to broaden their knowledge of airport operations and see how the work we are doing here applies to their Civil Engineering studies and to possible engineering careers in the aviation field,” said Hernan Peña, vice president of engineering for the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
Peña, a 1984 graduate of The Military College of South Carolina, along with Phil Strope, Class of 1999, of ADC Engineering Specialists; and airport Project Engineer Jonathan Sheppard, Evening Undergraduate Studies, Class of 2006, took the cadets onto the airfield where a $21 million taxiway improvement project is under way. The group also visited the FAA Air Traffic Control Tower.
The taxiway project includes lighting upgrades, sign replacement, concrete reconstruction and drainage improvements. It is being funded by the FAA Airport Improvement Program (90 percent) and the Aviation Authority (10 percent).
Ensuring the safety of aircraft taking off and landing at the airport during a construction project can be a challenge, but the work is necessary. The airport’s existing taxiways were built 30 years ago. Maintenance has been exceptional, but it was time to replace them, Strope said.
Pouring a concrete taxiway is unlike any building any other roadway or transportation network. The pavement must be capable of withstanding the weight of fully loaded commercial, military C-17 Globemaster and Boeing South Carolina’s Dreamlifter and Dreamliners. The taxiway concrete and base is 23-inches thick as a result. The work is being done by Anthony Allega Cement Contractors. Gordon Shanks, the firm’s project engineer, answered questions from the students.
Students who participated in this extraordinary field trip gained direct insight on air traffic control, taxiway pavements, role of engineering design, construction supervision, quality control of construction materials, and employment of heavy equipment for project construction.
At the Air Traffic Control Facility the students visited the Terminal RADAR Approach Control (TRACON), referred to as the “RADAR room,” where controllers control and monitor air traffic within 60 miles of Charleston and aircraft operating at six satellite airports in the Charleston area, via a wall of video monitors that resemble the board game Battleship. The brightest lights in the room are the flickering orange, red, yellow and green glows from the radar screens. The RADAR displays are undergoing a major electronic upgrade due to be completed in the spring of 2017.
At the top of the control tower, 187 feet in the air, there’s a bird’s eye view of the greater Charleston area. From there, air traffic controllers manage air traffic landing and taking off from the Charleston International Airport. On a good day the view extends for miles.
Zack Appleby, a junior from Miami, will be commissioned in the Army when he graduates in 2018. He’s not sure what his specialty in the Army will be but is interested in careers in aerospace, air traffic control, and he may want to fly while in the Army.
“This tour was helpful because it opened my eyes to that,” Appleby said.
Field trips provide students with great learning experiences to supplement classroom instruction, provide a better understanding of the importance of civil engineering design, and gain a perspective of how analytical principles relate to real world construction projects, said Citadel civil engineering Professor Dimitra Michalaka, Ph.D.
The students who participated in the field trip are juniors enrolled in a Transportation Engineering course that covers all major surface transportation modes of travel, including airport layout, operation and airfield capacity. Additionally students take a follow-on course in concrete and asphalt pavement design, which was especially relevant to the Taxiway A reconstruction project, Michalaka said.
Another benefit: the opportunity to interact with leaders in the transportation profession. “Seeing how excited and inspired students became during and after the field trip was a great indication of how much they enjoyed and learned during their visit,” Michalaka said. “Now what they observed and learned will be reinforced in the classroom and students will be able to better relate course material to real world applications.”