819th RED HORSE, airport partnership creates potential for up to $10 million of development
Thanks to a collaboration between the 819th RED HORSE Squadron and the Great Falls Airport, new taxi lanes have opened up about 20 acres for potential development.
The 819th has spent the summer constructing tax lanes and an access road just past the Loenbro and Front Range Aviation hangars.
This phase will result in about 10 available lots for hangar construction, whether by individuals or companies, according to Airport Director John Faulkner.
That equates to $5 million to $10 million worth of potential investment, Faulkner said, and those improvements would add to the city tax base.
“This enables a lot of other projects,” Faulkner said. “This lays the foundation for probably 20 years of development.”
Because the area is so isolated, allowing for increased air travel connectivity opens up opportunity for other economic growth, Faulkner said.
Loenbro bought a hangar a year or so ago to help with their business operations and some other companies regular fly through using private jets.
Since the area south of the main terminal and the 120th National Guard base was previously inaccessible and unusable, the 819th project will allow those small plane owners to lease lots and construct hangars.
Aviators would lease the land from the airport and then construct a hangar using their own plans or kits, Faulkner said. the improvements would be taxed and the hangars could be later sold or if the owner vacates the property and a lease ends, the property reverts to the airport.
Capt. Christian Clark, a project engineer for the 819th, said they went through innovative readiness training process with the Department of Defense.
The IRT program produces military readiness while simultaneously providing quality services to U.S. communities. The programs mission is to build mutually beneficial civil-military partnerships between DoD components and U.S. communities to provide high-quality training for active, Guard and Reserve components; deliver military readiness and partnership capacity to serve when the nation calls, at home or abroad; contribute to American prosperity by meeting public and civil-society needs; strengthen the bond between American citizens and the U.S. military, kindle a spirit of service and volunteerism among all partners and the communities they serve.
Clark said they proved the project had significant training opportunity for the 819th and helped the local community.
Faulkner said the project would likely cost the airport about $250,000 in materials and fuels, but if the project had been contracted out, it likely would have cost double that amount.
“That’s an investment we had planned 10 years out,” Faulkner said. “This has allowed us to push this development forward by a decade. That’s what a quantum leap this has been for us.”
Every year, two to three aircraft owners approached the airport wanting to move to the airport grounds, but there weren’t any hangar sites available, Faulkner said. Someone from California flew though Great Falls a few weeks ago, saw the construction and asked for a meeting to talk about potential hangar space.
The 819th has been working since June and expects to complete their work by Oct. 8 and that will make about 10 sites ready for hangar construction next spring.
The 819th did some prep work last year, but the airport wasn’t able to execute contracts for the needed asphalt and the 819th deployed.
Clark said they had as many as 26 airmen on the site in a day, but most days were seven to 12 airmen, depending on the work. Clark said they rotated airmen through so everyone in those job specialties in the unit could get training.
Being able to train in town reduced travel time, associated costs and time away from families. Training outside of a deployment is also helpful, Clark said, especially for the newer and younger members to learn the ropes without the additional stress.
“Our stateside mission is to train. Everything we do stateside, once we get back from deployment, we’re training for the next deployment,” Clark said.
This project involved the dirt and paving, survey, engineering and pavement design shops. Clark said they brought their own heavy equipment, which the airmen must get licenses to operate and also have to recertify on specific intervals so training projects like this one help keep them current.
The area where the 819th was working is part of the active airfield, but was out of the way of air traffic so they didn’t have to stop and move equipment each time a plane was taking off or landing.
“This was the perfect place to do it,” Faulkner said.
Kent Funyak, airport public safety manager, said they worked the project in conjunction with construction at the other end of the airport, allowing some collaboration between contractors and the 819th and additional learning opportunities.
The asphalt contractor was also on site to help explain differences in types of asphalt and offer insight in ways to best treat different types. A cold weather mix was being used at the airport, which differs from the type the 819th would use in deployed locations like the recent stint in Africa or other areas with warmer climate.
Once the project is complete, the airport will also install utilities in the area, making the lots ready for construction. They’ll also be able to extend utilities to the Front Range Aviation and Loenbro hangars, which haven’t been connected to city utilities since they were built. Faulkner said they’re trying to get sewer done this year and water in the spring, but could expedite the process if someone wanted to develop sooner.
The airport already started marketing for the hangar lots with an advertisement in a statewide aviation magazine and they plan to continue ramping up those efforts.
“It’s a whole new opportunity for us,” Faulkner said.