Benny the Air Force “Snow Man” assists Hill AFB

Tyndall Air Force Base — Preston “Benny” Benedyk, the Air Force vehicle and snow control manager from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Operation’s Directorate at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, recently traveled to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to collaborate and advise on best practices and process improvement for snow control operations.

During the visit to Hill, Benedyk advised on obtaining new snow control assets, licensing requirements for government vehicles, de-icing products and Air Force procedures for obtaining de-icing products.

“Understanding the procedures for validating vehicles is necessary to prevent procurement of un-necessary equipment and vehicles and saves the Air Force money by avoiding inefficient and ineffective processes,” Benedyk said.

There are extensive operations involved that go beyond the basic scope of pushing snow off the pavement. From equipment maintenance to replacement parts and sustainment, the entire process makes snow removal a year-round operation.

During winter months Benedyk assists installations by providing technical information, safety guidelines and federal standards, resolving equipment issues, and providing guidance on runway de-icing applications. Prior to and after the snow season, he works to develop specifications for new state-of-the-art snow control vehicles, advises on getting repair parts, evaluates new de-icing products, and participates in the Air Force De-Icing Workshop.

“That’s why Benny’s position is so important to us. I can’t call the buyer and make these arrangements or change things the way Benny can for us,” said Steve Hunt, civil engineer pavements and construction equipment chief at Hill Air Force Base.

Benedyk is a retired Air Force pavements and heavy equipment operator with more than 32 years of heavy equipment and snow control operation experience. Although cold weather bases may only get snow a few months of the year, as the Air Force civil engineer snow and ice control manager, Benedyk works snow control issues all year long.

“Snow control operations involves more than just getting in a snowplow and pushing snow,” Benedyk said. “It takes a great deal of knowledge and skill to operate the large vehicles needed to clear snow from the flight-line, airfield roadways and parking lots.”

At Hill, snow control teams operate within the perimeters of the installation as well as at remote locations several hundred miles from the base clearing missile sites and bombing ranges. The base’s operation space is the equivalent to 2,606 highway lane miles, which equates to one fourth the size of total highway lane miles of the state of Utah.

“Through construction, airfield space was added at Hill. Now more equipment is needed. Benny’s work is a one-of-a-kind, in-the-field facilitation that enables CE snow control operations to operate most efficiently, affordably and effectively,” Hunt said.

The winter season at Hill runs from Nov. 1 through April 1. During this period, the snow removal crew has 70 employees who work 24/7, operating 65 pieces of snow-removal equipment to remove 65-70 inches of snow each year.

In order to launch and recover aircraft, snow crews work to clear the airfield and runway first. However, they also have crews working to clear the base thoroughfares for everyone to get to, or leave, their work locations.

Many times crews have to wait for base personnel to leave and for parking lots to empty in order to clear these areas safely.

“Most base residents are not aware of how much work goes into snow and ice control planning and operations,” Hunt said.

Rain freezes on the airfield as temperatures drop, which solidifies and makes clearing the runway difficult. An ice event can be significantly more detrimental to snow control operations. As little as one-eighth of an inch of ice can prevent launching of critical aircraft. The Air Force Systems Program Office has stringent requirements for de-icing to avoid damaging the delicate aircraft.

In order to fully understand what it takes to move and remove snow from an area there needs to be an understanding of how snow accumulation is measured. Snow is measured by volume and weight. One inch of rain equals 8-14 inches of snow depending upon humidity level. “One inch of snow on a sidewalk or driveway may not seem like much but when increased to the size of an airfield or parking lot that equates to several thousand tons of snow,” Benedyk said.

Additionally, just because the area is cleared once, doesn’t mean it will stay cleared. Snow drifts cause continual work for the snow crews adding to long working hours, in extreme weather conditions, with little rest, to keep the mission going.

For example, in January 2015, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, faced an accumulation of more than 30 inches of snow during a 48-hour period, shutting down Washington, D.C. for three days equating to more than 36,000 tons of snow on the runway alone, not including the taxiways, parking ramps and base thoroughfares.

As the Air Force “Snow Man,” Benedyk is the chairperson for the Balchen/Post Award, Winter Operations and Military Airports for the International Aviation Snow Symposium for the Department of Defense.

Although Benedyk is considered the Air Force “Snow Man,” he attributes his knowledge and training to the Dirt Boyz, the nickname given for bulldozer and grader operators, who trained him as a young Airman, and to those who perform snow control operations on a regular basis. “Without their constant input I would not be able to make a difference,” Benedyk said. “Failure is not within the DNA of the Dirt Boyz.

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