Monday, The Huntingburg Airport celebrated County Road 200 West reopening with the state’s first tunnel under an airport runway as well as being one step closer in the decade long plan to extend and expand the airport’s runway.
The new 180-foot tunnel consists of 33 concrete arches held together by the force of gravity and a connecting keystone feature based on the same technology (although modernized) that ancient Rome used to create their architectural masterpieces thousands of years ago. The tunnel will support the runway extension to allow for larger payloads and larger aircraft which can weight about 10 times more than a loaded semi-trailer. The addition allows the airport to continue to serve the region in a larger capacity.
According to Curtis Brown, the project manager from Indianapolis-based Woolpert Engineering, the tunnel was the best and most cost-effective option to facilitate the runway extension. Other options considered included closing the county road or creating a large loop around the runway that would have crossed railroad tracks twice.
“These types of tunnels are fairly common for roadway or interstate work but this is the first tunnel under a runway in Indiana,” Brown said.
The tunnel allows for the current extension to take place as well as the airport’s future goals of extending it another 500 feet.
One of the design features Woolpert had to consider was making it wide enough and tall enough for a combine to travel through.
Adding the extra 500 feet of runway as well as widening it helps make the airport safer for pilots landing and taking off.
Brown pointed out that planes leaving the Huntingburg Airport make weight concessions to ensure they can take off. “Currently, all the critical aircraft take off with about half their fuel or half their load,” he explained.
This means aircraft have to plan for more stops for refueling when they leave the Huntingburg Airport.
“That extra 500 feet actually gets them to about 85 percent useful load which makes a huge difference,” Brown said. “Instead of having to stop in St. Louis, they can fly directly anywhere in the intercontinental United States.”
The overall project cost is estimated at $13.1 million and consists of the tunnel, the 500-foot extension, widening the existing runway by 25 feet, and relocating guidance devices. It is funded by the FAA and INDOT with matching funds from the Huntingburg Airport.
For Airport Manager Travis McQueen, the extension means more business for the county and region. “It creates a safer environment for the larger aircraft coming in and out of the airport,” he explained. “This is a monumental step, this tunnel was a big hurtle and the lynchpin. Now that this is done it is easier to move forward.”
Max Olinger is one of the original stockholders of the airport. His dad, RP Olinger, and Frosty Jones worked on turning a field into a dirt runway back in 1937. “Dad had the construction equipment and Frosty and he were good friends,” Max explained.
Frosty Jones took Max on his first airplane ride in 1939.
Max remembers the early development of the field. “It was just a dirt field until dad started working on it,” he explained remembering using the old outhouse that was the only faculties on the property for some time.
“This is fabulous,” he added about the development going on at the airport.
“We are very proud of this. It’s a very big accomplishment for the Huntingburg Airport,” Dubois County Airport Authority President Jim Hunsicker told the crowd of about 80 people that attended the ribbon-cutting. “I want to thank the previous boards who took the initiative and saw the vision so that we could grow.”