July 5, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The same type of cable braking system used to stop carrier-based aircraft from plunging off flight decks into the sea is being installed at the Dane County Regional Airport, Wisconsin.
In addition to regular commercial air traffic, the runways get a daily pounding from the fighter jets of the 115th Air National Guard. Safety is an important consideration where military jets mix with commercial air traffic.
To stop runaway fighter jets from making unscheduled sorties through the local neighborhood, a $1.2 million cable system is being installed on the airport's northeast-southwest runway.
In the event of an aborted take-off, overshoot on landing, or brake failure, a stretched cable across either end of the runway is designed to be snagged by an arrestor hook on the tail end of the F-16s. As the cable pays out, the jet is slowed to a controlled stop by a heavy duty braking system.
The arresting wire is a sturdy cable woven from high-tensile steel wire. When it is not in use, the cable is normally held down in a groove in the runway by a hydraulic mechanism. When raised, the 3/4" steel cable sits about six inches above the tarmac.
It wouldn't be healthy for a vehicle or other light airplane to hit the cable, so a the airport's Federal Aviation Administration control tower raises the system only when a pilot notifies the tower of a potential runway overshoot.
The installation has shut down the runway for about the last three months and is expected to be completed within a matter of days.
The northeast-southwest runway's cable-arrest system was installed to boost southern Wisconsin's ability to "scramble" in the event of a terror emergency.
Dane County Regional Airport's Truax Field located just on the northeast side of Madison, Wisconsin, is approximately 130 acres in size and has 44 buildings with a square foot total of approximately 400,000. The weekday workforce is approximately 350 persons and increases to about 1000 persons on a Unit Training Assembly weekend.