Machine Guided Airport Reconstruction

3D machine control technology equipped on both dirt moving and paving machinery helps the full reconstruction of Colorado's Meeker Airport see blue sky.

Published: March 2014

Author: Jeff Winke

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Machine Guided Airport Reconstruction


Machine Guided Airport Reconstruction


Tucked in the northwest corner of the American state of Colorado is Rio Blanco County, which according to the 2000 census is home to just fewer than 6,000 people. At 3,200 square miles, the county's population density is approximately two residents for every square mile, which provides plenty of elbow room.

Serving the area for air transportation is Meeker Airport, a C-II general aviation airport meaning it can accommodate aircraft with wingspan of less than 24 metres. The American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the safety of the country's airports - its designation of a C-II airport means it can accommodate aircraft with wingspan of less than 24 metres. The airport is critical to local residents and businesses. Private aircraft for energy companies including the mining niche, ranchers, fishing and hunting outfitters, as well as air charter service for both passengers and cargo are all flown in and out of Meeker Airport.

Runway 3-21 at Meeker airport had reached a point of wear and deterioration that required full reconstruction and upgrades to remain compliant with the FAA's C-II requirements. The project, which was awarded to Fiore & Sons, Inc was a two-stage project with a contract value of $US12.5 million. Construction consisted of the demolition of the existing 18m wide by 2km long runway and the construction of a new runway to meet C-II runway safety area and longitudinal standards. The new runway was widened to 30m - nearly doubling its width - and remained 2km long. The runway ties into the existing apron connector with a teacup style turnaround.

Fiore & Sons completed the demotion and removed 39,000 square metres of roto-milled asphalt in preparation for the site conditioning, grading and paving completed by United Companies of Mesa County, headquartered in Grand Junction, Colo. United Companies employs approximately 400 workers.

"We were responsible for base course and paving of the new runway and the overall construction of the large apron and taxiway," stated Jeff Boone, project manager for United Companies. "We needed to complete our portions of the combined projects within the eight-month timeline for the whole project, so our timing was tight."

United Companies had two major responsibilities in the project: the dirt and stone work to create the subbase and the finish paving on the runway, apron, and the aircraft turnaround. Between the dirt and paving crews, United Companies had approximately 20 workers on the Meeker Airport site.


Machine Guidance for Dirt Moving

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Machine Guidance for Paving Machinery

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After Fiore & Sons completed the demolition of the old runway and moved over 76,000 cubic metres to rebuild the runway, United Companies came on site and moved over 91,000 metres of dirt for the large apron and taxiway.  Between the two projects the company placed 70,000 tons or over 26,000 cubic metres of crushed aggregate base course in 150mm lifts with the company's three Caterpillar 140H graders - all equipped with Topcon 3D-MC²  machine control. 

"The machine guidance system helped us achieve more accurate placement of the base materials at higher speeds and better tolerances," said Jeff Gross, GPS machine control foreman for United Companies. "With a tight production deadline and stringent FAA requirements, it helped to have the technology."

As part of the machine control system, the graders are equipped with the Topcon GX-60 Control Box that features Windows XP operating system, touch-screen interface, USB file transfer capability, and a 150mm sunlight viewable color LCD screen. Additionally, the system includes a GPS antenna, MC-R3 receiver, and the MC² sensor - an inertial sensor which combines gyroscopes and accelerometers to measure the X, Y & Z position as well as the roll, pitch, yaw and acceleration of the grader. The Topcon controlling software is designed to provide position updates up to 100 times per second.

GDA Engineers, Cody, Wyo. provided the project control points as well as the points for drainage and utilities for the Meeker Airport project. "A tremendous amount of time and money was saved because we didn't need to be setting grade stakes," said Ken Dobey, construction manager for United Companies. "United Companies created the 3D site model which our GPS machine control could use - thus, the job was virtually stakeless."
Machine Control Paver


Dobey points out that the company has been an early adopter of technology for the past 15 years, with GPS machine control in use for the past four years. "Our business approach is to be at the cutting edge of technology," Dobey stated. "We've found that our investments in technology save us time and resources."

In keeping with its technology adoption approach, United Companies recently added machine guidance systems to its three Cat AP-1055D asphalt pavers. The Topcon system uses what Topcon refers to as LazerZone™ technology, which uses GPS positioning together with a zone laser reference provided by a PZL-1A rotating laser, which is said to transmit a signal that creates a measuring area 10 meters in height. 

On the first day of paving, United Companies paved two 180m long test strips measuring 4.8m wide using FAA-specified HMA. Sample cores were taken from the 50mm thick lift to ensure compliance. The paver guided by the machine control system provided results well within compliance.

To pave the 30m x 2000m long runway, United Companies arranged three rotating lasers spaced 150m apart and then leap-frogged them to maintain continuous production flow. A Roadtec SB-2500e material transport vehicle was used to ensure the hot mix asphalt was delivered consistently to the paver at the correct temperature and mix. 

"We were quite pleased with the results from the machine guidance system," Gross said. "We completed our work faster than expected and the results were superior, Only 16 out of the 2,500 check shots were out of compliance and none required corrective action."

In addition to the main runway, United Companies paved a 200m x 100m apron and a 365m x 15m wide taxiway. The complete Meeker Airport job required six layers that each needed to be checked for smoothness. The first layer was a graded dirt layer followed by three 150mm lifts of the P-154 subbase course - which is a gravel that consists of hard durable particles or fragments of granular aggregates. The fifth layer was a 150mm lift of PT-209 base course. And the top layer is two 50mm lifts of FAA-specified HMA.

"If we had needed to complete all of this work the old way using survey crews and pounding wood, it probably would have taken us two to three times longer ... the technology is that beneficial," Boone said. "And we can't argue about the quality of the finished results ... the smoothness of the runway pavement can speak for itself."

The final International Roughness Index of the recently completed Meeker Airport runway surface is well within the FAA specifications. Both the dirt and paving crews of United Companies are pleased with the work they've completed on the now upgraded Meeker Airport.

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Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wis, USA. He can be reached through

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