After the surge began in 2009, the Army built a runway at Forward Operating Base Shank, to allow for reinforcements to fly in. Initially it was a
clay runway that when it rained, no aircraft but helicopters could land (and them barely), because it turned to mud.
In 2010, it was reinforced to handle C-17s. The runway was built to be 7,000 feet long, which is right at the limits for a C-17, as long as they
aren't maxed out on weight (they need 7,600 feet at MTOW, and 3.500 feet to land). The problem comes in when you realize that the runway is at 7,000
Due to the altitude, aircraft need to be going faster to get airborne, which means they have to be going faster to land. Add in the weather in
Afghanistan, and you have a disaster waiting to happen.
The first accident happened on Jan 23, 2012 when a C-17 crew "failed to recognize the landing distance exceeded the runway length". The aircraft
slid off the end of the runway, and came to rest on an embankment, suffering major damage to the landing gear, antenna, and structural components.
The Air Force was going to destroy the plane, but Boeing convinced them it could be repaired in place enough for a one time flight back to the US.
The Air Force and Boeing sent a recovery team, who performed repairs to the aircraft, which allowed it to fly back to the US for permanent repairs.
Then on May 19th a C-130J flying in for a MEDEVAC mission, slammed into the runway, destroying the right side engines, and damaging the outboard
portion of wing. It's known that some C-130 pilots prefer to perform a max performance landing (full flaps, steep glideslope, short landing) going
into Shank due to the runway length and altitude. That aircraft still sits beside the runway while the ultimate cause is being investigated, but
it's obvious that it involved a hard landing.
Fortunately, while both aircraft had people on them, no one was seriously hurt in either accident. Hopefully they can either extend the runway, or
get us out of Shank before another accident happens and someone is hurt or killed there.
The Accident Investigation Board, convened by AMC, found that the cause of the mishap was the pilot and co-pilot failed to identify that the
landing distance required to safely stop the aircraft exceeded the runway length. Additionally, the AIB president found that the failure to assess
runway conditions for fixed wing operations at FOB Shank substantially contributed to the mishap.
The aircraft landed on a runway at FOB Shank, where the C-17A was unable to stop, departed the prepared runway surface, struck an embankment, and came
to rest approximately 700 feet from the end of the runway. The aircraft sustained damage to the landing gear, cargo floor, undercarriage, antennas,
and main structural components. There were no passengers, fatalities, significant injuries, or damage to civilian or other military property. The
estimated cost to repair the C-17A is $69.4 million.
Afghanistan is just about the worst place in the world to wage a high-tech war. Rugged, landlocked, stitched by countless tall mountain peaks,
laced by extreme weather and mostly undeveloped, Afghanistan makes getting anywhere by any method expensive, time-consuming and dangerous.
Just ask the passengers and crews of two U.S. Air Force cargo planes that met disastrous ends on the new airstrip at the military’s Forward
Operating Base Shank, in Logar province just south of Kabul. Since last year a $200-milllion C-17 airlifter and one of the smaller, $70-million
C-130Js have careered off Shank’s 7,000-foot-long runway, fortunately sparing their occupants’ lives but effectively wrecking both planes and
briefly halting other air traffic.