As a pilot who flies her own plane at Pierce County Airport, Lissa Smith enjoys witnessing breathtaking views.
But to get to those views, she — and all other pilots — have to take off and land safely.
Now, new and updated wiring and LED lights on Thun Field’s single runway will help pilots do just that.
“This is a huge improvement,” Smith said about the project. “It was a big project because we were able to update all the wiring. Everybody’s so happy to get (the new lights).”
This is a huge improvement. It was a big project because we were able to update all the wiring. Everybody’s so happy to get (the new lights).
Lissa Smith, maintenance lead at Thun Field
Smith has not only been a pilot for more than 28 years, but she’s also Thun Field’s only maintenance lead for its runway, responsible for general upkeep, from wildlife patrol to mowing the grass to “fixing anything that’s broken.”
Smith’s been working with the airport for three years, but has been with the county for 11. When she heard about the new wiring and light replacements, she knew it would do some good.
The $237,000 project was funded with grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Washington State Department of Transportation, and began last August. For six weeks, the airport closed the runway at night to install four new LED runway end identify lights (REILs) at Runway 17 and 35 on either side of the runway.
REILs help pilots identify where the runway is when they’re taking off and when they land. Thun Field’s runway stretches 3,650 feet long and 60 feet wide.
“Having all four unique identifiers ensures that you’re not landing on a road,” Smith said. “(They) direct the plane to where the actual runway is. You line the plane up between the flashing lights.”
The new lights are especially helpful during limited visibility conditions, including flying at night.
“When you’re up flying at night — there are lights everywhere,” Smith said. “Without these unique features you wouldn't be able to tell (where to land).”
When you’re up flying at night — there are lights everywhere. Without these unique features you wouldn’t be able to tell (where to land).
The airport’s wind tee, which tells pilots which direction the wind is blowing, was also refurbished with new LED lights. The wind tee was dedicated to the airport in 1982 and benefited from the update, Smith said.
The project also replaced the airport’s constant current regulator, which powers the lights in the field evenly. The previous regulator was “beyond its expected operational life,” and not to mention noisy, added Smith. The former regulator also kept the lights on 24/7.
“It was an energy hog,” Smith said.
While the Thun Field runway is shorter than the Tacoma Narrows Airport’s runway, which is more than 5,000 feet in length, Pierce County Airport is a general aviation airport that’s used frequently, often by students from the neighboring SpanaFlight flight school or independent pilots. By contrast, the Tacoma Narrows Airport can service larger jets.
It’s on the sunny days that Thun Field is busiest, Smith says, but the airport’s completed project enhances pilot visibility year-round.
“(Flying is) the freedom of being in the air, but also a challenge — a mental challenge because you have to stay on top of rules and regulations and know your airplane,” Smith said.