JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
An airfield that was constructed about a decade after the Army Air Corps opened Randolph Field continues to serve the needs of the flying training mission at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph as it meets the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Located about 25 miles east of JBSA-Randolph near Seguin, Texas, the JBSA Seguin Auxiliary Airfield – which consists of one runway, one taxiway, one ramp, a fire station and two runway supervisory units, or RSUs – is used primarily by the 12th Flying Training Wing’s 560th Flying Training Squadron to train T-38 instructor pilots.
“The Randolph runways can only support so many flight operations per day and do not support uncontrolled runway supervisory unit operations,” said Geren Fawver, 12th Operations Support Squadron airfield manager. “More than 200,000 tower-controlled operations were done on Randolph’s two runways last year. Sending some of the 560th FTS flight operations to the Seguin airfield allows for RSU training and makes room for other pattern operations at JBSA-Randolph.”
RSUs are manned by personnel from the flying training squadrons who monitor flight operations to ensure the flights, which are not controlled by air traffic controllers, are safe and have the authority to land and operate.
The Seguin airfield will soon support other components of the training mission with the stand up of undergraduate pilot training and its use by the 559th FTS to train new pilots.
The airfield is also used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency as an incident support base in times of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey three years ago.
FEMA can use a portion of the airfield’s non-usable ramps and its old runways and taxiways for disaster staging, Fawver said, but the 12th FTW can continue its mission during a natural disaster because the ISB is set up away from flight operations.
Fawver also does not anticipate any impact if disaster staging occurs during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has not really impacted FEMA’s potential use of the Seguin airfield in terms of natural disasters, and I’m sure FEMA would also implement COVID-19 procedures during any operation they conducted at the airfield,” he said. “However, their operations would be totally separate from ours, so it’s not a risk to our operations from a pandemic standpoint.”
The impact of the pandemic at the Seguin airfield is driven by the impact at JBSA-Randolph, Fawver said.
“We’ve made a few adjustments since March getting us to our current operations procedures,” he said. “Essentially, we have a morning crew of instructor pilots, air traffic controllers and airfield management operating the airfield. The airfield closes a little after mid-day, the morning crews leave, and we reopen the airfield about 45 minutes later with a new afternoon crew.”
Weather is another consideration at the airfield, Fawver said.
“The weather has an impact on how we schedule flight operations, forcing us to adjust our hours and manning,” he said. “From March through May, morning fog or clouds can limit flying, so we scheduled shorter morning hours and longer afternoon hours to maximize the better afternoon flying conditions. However, from June to the present, the morning weather is better and the afternoon heat index above 100 degrees can limit flying, so now we have longer morning flying hours and shorter afternoon hours.”
Fawver said COVID-19 procedures are implemented to the maximum in either case.
“Implementing the COVID-19 procedures, and as well as the morning and afternoon flight schedules, impacts manning, and finding time for these sections to have personnel time off and leave has been a challenge,” he said.
The JBSA Fire Emergency Services personnel also play a major role at the Seguin airfield and face the same COVID-19 challenges as the 12th FTW’s personnel and students.
“We typically staff the Seguin Fire Station No. 9 with four firefighters,” said Robert Ashley, JBSA FES deputy chief. “These personnel will call the 560th FTS to see what their flying hours will be for the day and our personnel will ensure they are in place and ready to provide coverage for the duration of the flight operations for the day. When flying is done for the day, those firefighters are released.”
The pandemic has not altered that procedure, Ashley said, but the firefighters adhere to the same procedures that personnel at the other eight JBSA fire stations follow regarding social distancing, wearing masks and sanitation measures.
The fire department has developed an extensive list of COVID-19 protocols that is constantly updated as situations dictate, he said.
One of the firefighters’ challenges is maintaining physical distance, Ashley said.
“The fire station is small,” he said. “Firefighters have to stagger meal and workout times so they aren’t in the same small areas at the same time. It’s the same issue at all the fire stations.”
Ashley commended all of JBSA’s firefighters for their contributions to the mission.
“All of our firefighters take pride in their job and supporting the mission and our communities as needed,” he said. “They do an outstanding job.”
Fawver also underscored the importance of the Seguin airfield and its personnel.
“The addition of UPT training and the future bed-down of the new T-7A make the Seguin airfield an even more critical asset to the 12th Flying Training Wing and critical in our ability to accomplish our flight training mission,” he said. “Pandemic or not, South Texas will face future gulf storms, so FEMA being able to also use the airfield to support future disaster relief efforts is also critical.
“The Seguin airfield is a small plot of land, but provides a very large, critical role for both the 12th FTW and FEMA in being able to accomplish our missions.”