The Air Force Civil Engineer Center, in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory, recently introduced a first-of-its-kind runway rubber removal system for use at remote airfields. The device, which uses a retrofitted Unimog designed for transport to airfields in austere areas of Southwest Asia, is the first rubber removal device designed to be transported by a C-130 Hercules.
In order to make the machine air-transportable, the manufacturers had to give it the ability to transform to a smaller version of itself. The cab of the Unimog folds down and the windshield drops to make the overall height short enough to fit into a C-130.
Taking rubber off the runway is important because every landing adds to the build-up of rubber, and that poses a risk to landing aircraft. Each time an aircraft lands, when the tires make contact with the runway, they are super-heated by the friction between the tires and the runway, causing thin deposits of rubber to adhere to the surface of the pavement. Eventually, over time, the rubber builds up enough to cause a hazard to aircraft, especially in wet conditions.
The expeditionary rubber removal kit comes with two systems: one uses a detergent to dissolve rubber from the runway before being rinsed off; the other is the ultra-high pressure water system -- the retrofitted Unimog. After the rubber is taken off of the runway, the system also takes care of the resulting debris.
The cleaning head essentially blasts the rubber off of the surface of the pavement and a vacuum system removes all debris and water left behind. Although the ultra-high pressure water system does provide flexibility, it isn't designed to be a complete replacement for using detergent to remove the rubber.