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'Snow warriors' of the skies: A glimpse into the battle to keep Appleton Airport flying smoothly

Posted at 6:25 PM, Jan 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-09 19:30:09-05
  • Appleton Airport's dedicated "snow warriors" work tirelessly during winter storms to clear runways for safe flights.
  • Using specialized equipment, like a 23-foot-long broom, they ensure the runway is free of snow and ready to go.
  • This behind-the-scenes effort involves teamwork and precision to maintain normal operations even in the face of challenging weather conditions.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

Even in the face of a winter storm, the flights to and from the Appleton airport look scheduled as normal. But a lot of work goes into making that happen. I’m Olivia Acree, your Appleton neighborhood reporter. I’m taking you onto the runway with an airport snowplow driver to see what it takes to make sure everything is flying smoothly even during a winter storm.

Plows are busy clearing snow from the Appleton international airport's runways. Behind the wheel is Randy Schwake. The airport calls them their “snow warriors” and I got a chance to go along as Schwake worked to remove the snow.

“As you’re going down you can’t even see the truck coming at you,” said Schwake.

For twelve hours a day during every snowstorm, he and the other so-called snow warriors are making sure planes at ATW can go from the ground to the air.

“The plow actually takes it down to probably half to a quarter of an inch of snow but then the broom does the clearing,” said Schwake.

That broom looks similar to brushes in a car wash, but it could do some damage. The broom is 23 feet long and made of plastic and metal wires.

“Usually have two to three trucks on the runway at all times. Up 8,000 back 8,000, a snow-covered runway to 60 feet of clear,” said Schwake.

When they can see that runway so can the pilots.

“If you get in your car and drive on the highway, you can go 30 miles an hour. An airplane lands anywhere from 120-160 mph and that’s as slow as it can be going. The runway needs to be clear in order for that aircraft to break and slow down,” said Jesse Funk from ATW.

The whole operation involving as many as four vehicles on the runway at once allows them to clear the runway enough for flights to take off and land safely.