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February 9, 2011

Ski Liberty snow cat waded in to "groom" BWI

Here's a story we missed during last year's twin blizzards:  When BWI-Marshall Airport found itself without the equipment they needed for snow removal around sensitive runway "glide slope" antennas, they lifted their eyes unto the hills, whence came their help.

The glide slope equipment is a critical piece of the airport's Instrument Landing System, guiding pilots to the ground when visibility is poor, telling them when they are too high or too low. But it is sensitive to uneven terrain around the antennas, and the 44 inches of snow that had fallen in less than a week was affecting the accuracy of the data being sent to approaching aircraft. 

Here's how BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean recounted the tale, which began just after the end of BWI-Marshall Airportthe second storm, on Feb. 9-10:

"The depth of the snow was causing variations in the readings [the system] was producing. It wasn't an issue [so long as] the weather was clear. But the carriers were concerned about this technology. They wanted to ensure it would be available to use should the weather be bad after the storms."

"The airport snow removal equipment is designed to plow and blow snow from runways and taxiways and other paved surfaces. It would not be able to operate on grassy surfaces."

The airport's plows and blowers would have torn up the grass and could have become bogged down in mud, Dean said:

"Our airport manager came up with the idea. He contacted the professionals at Ski Liberty. They were very enthusiastic and very gracious, and did not hesitate in bringing that equipment down from PennsylvaniaBWI Ski Liberty. And the operation worked beautifully."

Liberty Mountain Resort's PistenBully 600 snow cat was loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled the 83 miles from Waynesboro, Pa., arriving on the evening of Feb. 11. It was re-assembled overnight, and the Ski Liberty crew went to work the next morning. The operator reduced the snow cover and groomed the snow  over an area the size of "a couple of football fields" across two areas of snow-covered airport property on Runway 10-28.

The work was done in one day, Dean said, and the glide slope system was back on line. The snow cat crew's compensation? "We bought them dinner," Dean said.

"It was a unique, outside-the-box operation (in idea and execution) that was a real benefit to BWI and our airline partners," Dean said. "The work was acknowledged and praised by the FAA and other airports throughout the country."

(PHOTOS: BWI-Marshall Airport, used with permission)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:30 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: History


Once again, Frank, you've provided your readers with a fascinating story no one else would tell.

FR: Agree with Ralph. This is why it's a pleasure to read your blog. Also, nice literary allusion to Psalm 121.

As a corporate pilot who flies in and out of BWI, this was delightful to read. On top of that, Ski Liberty is our favorite ski area! Very nice job on the technical points, quite informative. Thanks, Frank!

FR: Thank you!

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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