Shasta-Trinity National Forest Wins Regional Award for Sustainable Operations
Shasta-Trinity National Forest Engineer Virginia Jones is a problem solver. When she heard of a proposed 2.5 million dollar construction project to replace pavement at the Redding Air Attack Base, she asked ‘why?’. That question led to multi-million dollar savings for the government, plus significantly reduced fuel use and carbon emissions during firefighting. And that in turn led Regional Forester Randy Moore to laud Ms. Jones and the Forest at a ceremony in Sacramento on December 14th for their leadership in sustainable operations.
The project was envisioned in order to make the pavement strong enough to support C-130 aircraft equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems (MAFFS). They could then land and reload retardant needed to fight wildfires. “I believe Stan Kubota, fixed wing operations specialist, looked at the fact that the MAFFS units were flying right over Redding to get to Chico for reload, and that there was a huge potential for cost and energy savings if we did another evaluation on Redding’s ramp” said Base Manager Jeff Ridley. Jones quickly agreed – one wildfire can easily require hundreds of air tanker trips.
Jones realized that such an expensive project might never be approved, so she started questioning the underlying assumption: Was the pavement really not strong enough? The base had originally been designed to accommodate a turboprop aircraft manufacturer and B-17 air tankers, which are less than half the maximum takeoff weight of a MAFFS C-130.
Jones gathered the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) guidelines, the original soil density tests, the design specifications and the engineering calculations from 1986, and started to calculate. “I looked at it with a fresh set of eyes” said Jones who joined the Forest service in October 2014. “I treated it as if it were a problem on my professional engineering test.”
Jones, assisted by John Casey, Forest aviation officer, determined that the tarmac could support 175,000 lbs, instead of the original estimate of 155,000 lbs. Kubota confirmed that a MAAFS C-130 only required 167,000 lbs. The US Air Force then conducted penetrometer tests to measure the density of the pavement and soil, and verified Jones’ calculations. The City of Redding airport division, the California Air National Guard and the Forest Service together confirmed that the Redding Air Attack Base could support the MAFFS C-130s. “After we received the verification, it was pretty much a big celebration at that point,” said Jones.
Jones thought the project could save about $3500 each trip. She was wrong. This one project saves over 1.3 tons of carbon emissions and 360 gallons of fuel each trip, and the cost savings to the government nearly $2000 in fuel costs just for the shortened flight time, and not including the nearly 50% lower cost of fuel available in Redding.
Jones owned her own engineering firm prior to joining the Shasta-Trinity National Forest just over 2 years ago, and clearly treats public funds and assets with the same care she does her own. Says Forest Supervisor Dave Myers “Virginia has been a fantastic addition to the leadership team on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. She and her engineering team have a ‘get it done’ attitude and approach to work that is refreshing and serves the public well”. In this case, serving the public equates to saving not only the $2.5 million estimated to reconstruct the runway, but also an estimated additional $1.5 million, 36,000 gallons of fuel and 130 tons of carbon emissions for every 10 days of fire.