Tupelo Regional Airport Hosts Presidential Visit

By Cliff Nash, Executive Director
Tupelo Regional Airport

Air Force One on the ground at Tupelo

On Monday, November 26, Air Force One landed at Tupelo Regional Airport.  After less than ten days from the first notification of the visit – six of which were over the weekend and holidays – the airport, along with support from the airlines, city, county, surrounding communities and state and federal agencies, hosted the Presidential visit.  With an estimated 9,000 supporters, Tupelo Regional Airport provided an excellent venue, saving considerable time and resources and significantly reducing daily disruption.  Working with the Secret Service, only seven of Contour Airlines’ flights were cancelled over the two-day period.

Most places where Air Force One (AF1), a Boeing 757, would go would have the pavement strength to handle the operation, whereas in Tupelo’s case, we do not.  Thus, paradox number one, the AF1 Site Team tells you, “We can’t use the runway, taxiways or aprons; but, will you sign a letter authorizing us to do so?”  As you are pondering the merits of doing so – wondering how the media would report to the world how AF1 got stuck, ran off the pavement or worse – you get another call, from Scott Air Force Base (SAFB).

C-17 preparing to reverse thrust to complete turn to back-taxi the runway

Suddenly, there is an urgent need to approve some C-17 operations.  Again, a similar story as above; but, with a twist.  Here is where the fun begins.  So, how do you approve an operation at 435,600 pounds with a pavement wheel bearing capacity of only 168,000 pounds for dual, dual wheels (2DW)?  Easy, you sign your director of operations’ name to the prior permission required form.  Again, that’s assuming airports that support AF1 missions are big enough to have directors of operations; if not, find a plan B.  Just kidding.

I am sure some of y’all have heard my ongoing question about the ACN/PCN ratio question.  Well, lesson learned.  The Air Force’s Request for Approval to Conduct Aircraft Operations in Excess of Published Weight Bearing Capacity (WBC) form states the AF will allow the airport director to multiply the pavement’s WBC by a maximum of 1.5.  (I knew I had seen this written somewhere.)  Checking the ACN value for the max landing weight of a C-17 and dividing the two, you derive a value of 8,013 lbs/1 ACN.  Next, looking at Boeing’s wheel configuration conversion charts, one sees that a C-17 has a 1.8 multiplier factor for 2DW pavements.  Taking all this, (168K x1.5) x 1.8 equals 453,600 lbs.  Now, 453,600 divided by 8,013 equals an ACN of 56.6.  Given the MLW of 435,600 lbs, the equivalent ACN would equate to 54.3.  Now, 54.3 divided by 56.6 is less than 1.0 – and the congregation shouted, “Hallelujah!”  Well, the C-17s are okay; but the Boeing 757 is a 2DW geared aircraft…back to paradox number one.  However, the airport has supported 757s with no problems before.

To the AF’s credit, they have some very good pilots.  The order for the day: All C-17s could land but could only use the two northern taxiways and the parallel between them.  That required a Runway 36 approach; or, if using Runway 18, back taxiing down the runway.  Been there, done that, so emphasis on back-taxiing was repeated and emphasized.  As luck would have it, on the day of the flight the weather favored Runway 18.  After an attempt to land on Runway 36, the aircraft circled and landed to the south.  True to the pilot’s words, he performed the maneuver flawlessly, back-taxiing without any issues, problems or damage.

There are a lot more lessons learned that can be shared later.  However, one statement made by a Secret Service agent, although at the time seemed it impossible, came true.  He said, “In less than a week, you will be laughing.”  

I just don’t know if he meant happy laughing, or babbling crazy.