|A P-3C Orion is towed into position for takeoff on the Naval Air Station Jacksonville runway Dec. 9. Artisans at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast recently completed planned maintenance on the plane. It was the first aircraft to takeoff from the airfield since it closed for construction in early June. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)|
Lt. Cmdr. Adam Schantz, Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) P-3C product officer and test pilot, lifted the nose of the P-3C Orion into a bright, blue sky Dec. 9, marking the first takeoff from Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville’s runways since the airfield closed for upgrades and repairs in early June.
Though the station’s active fixed-wing aircraft were transferred to Cecil Commerce Center before construction began, work at FRCSE, a Navy repair and maintenance facility, continues. The facility’s artisans recently finished their maintenance work on the Orion, which is now on its way to join Navy Patrol Squadron 4 in Hawaii.
Until last week, it was landlocked without a runway from which to take off.
“FRCSE got the plane finished in time for our initial takeoff date of Nov. 30,” Schantz, a Jacksonville native, said. “But due to the rain and weather, we had to delay it.”
The morning of Dec. 9 broke clear and blustery.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful day to fly,” Schantz said before climbing into the Orion’s cockpit.
However, since the airfield’s main runway is not yet operational, Schantz used the secondary runway that is 5,980 feet – roughly 2,000 feet shorter than the main runway’s old length of 8,000 feet.
“It’s a little bit shorter, but I’ve flown off it in the past,” Schantz said. “There are just additional steps we take. We trained in the simulator a couple times just to practice on a short runway.”
For Schantz, who was flying hot-air balloons at 14 along with blimps when he was fresh out of college, a shorter runway wasn’t a problem. As the freshly painted plane left the ground, ascended and banked right near the airfield’s control tower, workers from FRCSE’s P-3 line clapped and cheered.
“This was a great accomplishment today,” said P-3 Integrated Product Team Lead Angello Evans. “The plane arrived at the end of May, just before the runways closed. Now that we can start getting planes out, we can start taking in work as well.”
The massive project is the first major overhaul of the runway in 70 years. The construction is literally paving the way for the future of the base by adding improvements such as an additional 1,000 feet of runway, new energy-saving LED lighting and signage. Many of the enhancements are designed to accommodate the Navy’s new P-8A Poseidon aircraft, for which NAS Jacksonville is the East Coast home.
The Poseidon is taking over anti-submarine warfare, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance duties from the P-3C. Currently, NAS Jax is home to the only operational P-8A squadrons.
In more ways than one, the runway renewal marks an end of one era and the beginning of another. NAS Jax Airfield Manager Doug Chaney called the project “historic.”
“The life of the new runway is now projected to be 50 years,” Chaney said. “Doing the math, we have one shot in 120 years to do this project properly – and we’re going to get it done.”