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Senator Pushing Army to Make Plans for Pope Runway Extension

The C-130 Hercules aircraft prominently displays the Bragg-Pope tail flashing of the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. On March 1, 2011 the former air force base was called Pope Field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter R. Miller)
The C-130 Hercules aircraft prominently displays the Bragg-Pope tail flashing of the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. On March 1, 2011 the former air force base was called Pope Field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter R. Miller)

A North Carolina senator wants the Army to explain how and when it will extend the runway at Fort Bragg's Pope Field.

Legislation filed today by Sen. Thom Tillis would require the secretary of the Army to submit a report to the Senate on the plans.

Local military leaders have been trying to get approval and funding to lengthen the 7,500-foot runway at Pope for well over a decade.

The runway is too short for a fully loaded C-17 or C-5 cargo aircraft to safely take off.

That's a concern for Fort Bragg, where the core mission is to get soldiers in the air as quickly as possible to send them places the country needs them.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Tillis said Pope Field is the busiest tactical airfield in the Armed Forces and it makes little sense that it's hampered by one of the Army's shorter runways.

"Mr. President, extending the Pope runway to accommodate the airlift requirements of the Global Response Force and the 18th Airborne Corps is a national strategic priority," Tillis said.

The legislation is being offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. If approved, the report would be due within 180 days.

The senator said the purpose is to ensure the runway is a top priority.

Air Force leaders had made the runway at priority before Pope Air Force Base was absorbed by Fort Bragg as part of the last round of base realignment and closure.

When the Army took over the airfield, it did not have the same priorities, Tillis said.

"It has fallen off of the Army's priority list and I don't know why," the senator said. "...Our paratroopers and our taxpayers need to know."

The current Pope runway extends 7,500 feet with another 1,000 feet of a paved overrun for take-offs. That's more than enough for the smaller C-130 cargo planes, but a fully fueled and loaded C-17 requires a 10,500-foot runway. The massive C-5 requires 11,500 feet.

Currently, the larger planes would need to refuel in the air, or stop at another airfield and refuel after leaving Fort Bragg for a rapid deployment.

Military planners estimate the extension would cost at most $50 million, but would likely be cheaper.

That's because, unlike past Air Force plans, Fort Bragg does not envision going outside the installation gates to build the longer runway. Instead, the runway extension would be built on the installation across Hurst Drive and toward Pratt Street and Rifle Range Road.

That would likely mean the plan would avoid the controversy met by earlier efforts. Residents of nearby Spring Lake were concerned about safety, wetlands and economic harm to homeowners during the last attempt to extend the runway in the 1990s.

The extension at Pope, if approved, would add to a steady stream of repairs and improvements the Army has made since Fort Bragg absorbed Pope Air Force Base in March 2011.

Since that time, the Army has invested $55 million in needed repairs to the runway, aprons and taxiways.

Another $33 million in repairs is planned between now and 2019, according to a briefing presented to Tillis during a visit to Fort Bragg earlier this year.

The Pope runway was last extended in 1972.

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