Paving of airport runways, taxiways, and aprons has provided a strong market for concrete in recent years, as commercial and military airports upgrade their ground facilities to keep up with increasing air traffic. In 1992, 25 million flights took off or landed at the nation's 100 largest airports. The first United States airport runway was built in 1928 in Dearborn, Michigan, by the Ford Motor Company for a Ford-manufactured plane called the Silver Goose. This and other early runways used variable pavement thicknesses similar to those of early highways: concrete that was eight or nine inches deep at the edges and six or seven inches thick at the center. Until World War II, engineers designed these concrete pavements based on the anticipated loads imposed by refueling trucks carrying gasoline to the airplanes, rather than the airplanes themselves, because the trucks imposed a more critical wheel load.
In 1942, at the beginning of World War II, the United States placed 93 million square yards of airfield pavement as the country mobilized to get war planes airborne. At that time, six inches deep concrete pavements were the norm, but heavier airplanes created the need to increase concrete runway pavement depth to 12-inches thick. Eventually, engineers specified runway pavements as thick as 24 inches to accommodate heavy loads imposed by larger aircraft. The addition of more wheels to these airplanes, which better distributed the loads on the pavement, reduced the pavement depth required to 12 inches in the late 1940s.
Today, specifications for airport concrete pavement vary depending on subgrade conditions, expected loading, and anticipated pavement life-span. New concrete runways at non-hub airports generally range in thickness from nine to 12 inches, while runways at hub airports often are constructed 15- to 18-inches thick to withstand larger and more frequent loading.
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