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Base prepares flightline for spacecraft landing

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Mr. Dennis Pakulski, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, gives a safety briefing to construction crews before heading out to the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. The crews replaced metal plates that covered holes left by removed runway lights. The upcoming X-37B landing mission required different plates to ensure damage would not occur due to the plane's small tire diameter. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Mr. Dennis Pakulski, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, gives a safety briefing to construction crews before heading out to the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. The crews replaced metal plates that covered holes left by removed runway lights. The upcoming X-37B landing mission required different plates to ensure damage would not occur due to the plane's small tire diameter. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Construction crews drive onto the flight line to prepare it for the X-37B landing here Saturday, May 8, 2010. The crews replaced metal plates in order to make sure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U. S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Construction crews drive onto the flight line to prepare it for the X-37B landing here Saturday, May 8, 2010. The crews replaced metal plates in order to make sure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U. S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Johnny Tucker, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, removes bolts from the metal plates on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. The metal plates needed to be replaced to provide a smooth landing for the X-37B. (U. S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Johnny Tucker, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, removes bolts from the metal plates on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. The metal plates needed to be replaced to provide a smooth landing for the X-37B. (U. S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Stacks of replacement plates lay in a truck bed while repair crews remove the old plates from the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Stacks of replacement plates lay in a truck bed while repair crews remove the old plates from the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 2nd Lt. Mike Kelly, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, tightens a bolt for a metal plate on the flightline at here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 2nd Lt. Mike Kelly, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, tightens a bolt for a metal plate on the flightline at here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 2nd Lt. Mike Kelly, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, signs a metal plate to signify it has passed inspection during installation on the flightline at here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 2nd Lt. Mike Kelly, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, signs a metal plate to signify it has passed inspection during installation on the flightline at here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Stephen Todd, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, scrapes a seal from a runway light hole while Mr. Johnny Tucker, also from the 30th CES, brings him a new metal plate to cover the hole on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Stephen Todd, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, scrapes a seal from a runway light hole while Mr. Johnny Tucker, also from the 30th CES, brings him a new metal plate to cover the hole on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Stephen Todd, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, scrapes a seal from a runway light hole to prepare for installation of a new metal plate on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Stephen Todd, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, scrapes a seal from a runway light hole to prepare for installation of a new metal plate on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Greg Shoults, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron structure shop, applies a compound to seal the bolts holding the new metal plates into the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Greg Shoults, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron structure shop, applies a compound to seal the bolts holding the new metal plates into the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Construction crews set up numbered cones to help them coordinate where special equipment is needed to aid in the replacement of metal plates on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)
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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Construction crews set up numbered cones to help them coordinate where special equipment is needed to aid in the replacement of metal plates on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. John Anaya, of the 581st Missile Maintenance Squadron, inspects a metal plate he replaced to ensure it meets specifications for the X-37B landing on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)
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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. John Anaya, of the 581st Missile Maintenance Squadron, inspects a metal plate he replaced to ensure it meets specifications for the X-37B landing on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Jim Zechman, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron structures shop, removes sealing from a runway light hole to prepare it for a replacement cover on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)
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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Mr. Jim Zechman, of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron structures shop, removes sealing from a runway light hole to prepare it for a replacement cover on the flightline here Saturday, May 8, 2010. Construction crews replaced the metal plates to ensure the X-37B has a safe landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The 30th Civil Engineer Squadron finished a runway hardware retrofit construction detail at the base's flightline May 8 to accommodate the eventual landing of the Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle here.

"The experimental nature of the X-37B necessitated the urgency of the modifications in case of an unscheduled landing," said Lt. Col. Troy Giese, the Air Force's X-37B Systems Program Director.

Approximately 80 people from the 30th CES, 30th Launch Group, 581st Missile Maintenance Squadron, 30th Operations Support Squadron's airfield operations flight and Vandenberg's Training Device Design and Engineering Center replaced 658 plates along the flightline's centerline to increase the levelness of the airstrip.

"We really appreciate our partners at Vandenberg going the extra mile to ensure the success of the X-37B program," Colonel Giese said. "The landing of this experimental spacecraft is a major objective of the program and the hard work of the runway retrofit team means we can land when we need to."

Each of the contributing base agencies allowed for the promptness of the completion of the flightline construction.

"We were involved in everything from the development of the new plate design to fabrication and installation," said Mr. Dell Barritt, Vandenberg's TDDEC director. "The sheer number of plates and the time constraints were also huge factors. It was of major importance, not only to us, but to Vandenberg, the Air Force and Boeing. Everyone worked together as a team to ensure the runway was prepared for the safe return of the X-37B."

The X-37B is the U.S.'s newest and most advanced unmanned re-entry spacecraft. It can be transported to and from space to test satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology.

"Although the X-37B project itself is a historic event, we were just glad to have the opportunity to help make it a success," Mr. Barritt said. "Any time we can provide support for any project, large or small, we're happy to help."

In addition, the planning and organization was something to behold and it was very well done, said Mr. Barritt. Planning for the construction effort was essential due to the specifics of the X-37B's landing configurations and the availability of the base's flightline. The construction crews worked three Saturdays during times of airstrip inactivity to modify the flightline for the spacecraft's unique landing wheel design.

"Going into the construction, we devised a plan so that no time was wasted throughout this project," said Mr. Dennis Pakulski, the 30th CES mission engineer chief. "The project was very organized and the synergy between the organizations was incredible. Planning definitely played a huge role in saving both time and money."

A project of this size and significance took the collaborative efforts of the engineer-led crews to successfully complete the flightline's plate replacement in the allotted time.

"Getting the runway ready to land this spacecraft was a lot of fun," Mr. Pakulski said. "It was good to see Team Vandenberg pull together as everyone did and I am really proud to have been a part of the whole thing. I don't think I have ever been a part of something this important and have it go as well as this project did."