AFCEC makes breakthrough to keep mission moving

  • Published
  • By David Ford
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs

After nearly five years of research, and despite a hurricane that crippled critical testing facilities, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center is on the cusp of delivering a visionary product that repairs damaged pavement and keeps the mission moving.

“This project is a total team effort to expand warfighter capability, through multi-program support, across labs within AFCEC,” said Karsten Lipiec, AFCEC senior airfield pavements engineer.

In December 2014, the requirements and acquisition’s lab here was tasked with creating a backfill from indigenous materials with quick-setting strength, said Kara Griffith, a research scientist supporting AFCEC's Readiness Directorate. This solution is crucial for filling craters in areas where supplies can’t be shipped due to bomb damage, or a blocked transportation path.

“The Air Force needs a new backfill formulation that uses more indigenous ingredients, so less materials are needed to ship on site,” said Griffith. “Not only will this formulation reduce the logistical burden of transporting all the material to the site, it will also decrease shipping cost.”

The lab completed the first successful backfill field evaluation in July 2019 at the “9700 Area” at Tyndall. Not only did the event mark a pivotal result of a process that began nearly five years earlier, it represented a triumphant return to an essential research area previously submerged in a six-foot storm surge caused by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.

Responding immediately and efficiently to an attack is paramount, Lipiec said. The team on the ground can be more than 100 people at once, cutting concrete, transporting fill material, preparing the crater and then mixing the material as it’s placed in the crater. It’s a highly organized, time-sensitive response capability civil engineers practice at all regional training sites, he said.

Another critical element of warfighter readiness is reducing the logistical footprint.

“Thousands of pounds of essential fill material is currently shipped all over the world,” Lipiec said. “The current formulation has worked to provide almost a 75% smaller support force such as fuels, parts, added equipment, transportation and people. Any Air Force base with a runway benefits from not having to stockpile as much material as currently needed for practicing fast-paced runway repairs. It also enhances wartime flexibility by being able to adapt to other materials that can be gathered locally.”

Once the research team determined it had the right ratio of indigenous ingredients to meet its goals, they turned their focus to the chemistry needed to make it more useful in the field. Based on its findings, the team submitted for a patent on Oct. 26, 2018, called “Cementitious Materials.”

Griffith and the team then moved on to larger site chemical mixtures and pours that could be moved to determine if the material would actually work.

It did, in fact, too well. The material setting process clocked in at under 30 minutes; too fast for use in a transit vehicle – such as a water or cement truck, said Griffith.

In October 2019, the team performed a second successful field evaluation — this time a dry placement pour.

“It was good to see from this study that I have fixed the activator formulation and it performed the same in the field as in the lab, which was a first,” said Griffith. “We also further simplified the formulation from three ingredients down to two.”

Combining a successful return to the “9700 Area” along with consecutive successful backfill field pours, Lipiec said things are finally back to a steady production flow for every lab involved at AFCEC.

“This development is a step in the right direction, in terms of taking an existing field solution and seeing how we can make improvements to assist the Airmen that will ultimately be responding in a recovery situation after attack,” he said.