Airports of all sizes must deal with similar conditions day in and day out. Traffic patterns, changing weather, and busy schedules, for example, are constant concerns. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, air travel numbers in the United States alone rose 4.5 percent hitting 73.1 million passengers between March 2017 and March 2018 (the latest available statistics at publication).
To meet those kinds of numbers, airports have to run smoothly — and that means from the top down. At the Mercer County Airport in Bluefield, West Virginia, home of the famous mathematician featured in the film A Beautiful Mind, the leaky roof was causing problems. The airport is located right on the state line to Virginia and the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, specifically near New River Valley, noted as one of the five oldest rivers in the world.
But it was a newer issue that was causing the workers at this airport a headache. Three hangars had been leaking for eight years. And with winter on its way, time was of the essence to finally start fixing the leaks.
Approach for Landing
The crew focused on two of the buildings before the planned winter break, using the first building as a temperature-controlled facility for their materials.
“The project was made possible in part by a $120,000 grant from the Hugh I. Shott Jr. Foundation as part of its work to fund projects that better the Bluefield community and fuel local economic development,” according to Henry Malkin, operations manager at Frye Roofing Inc., the coating applicators on the job. The coatings crew, based in the next town over the West Virginia state line, had to hit the roofs running to get all 36,500 square feet (3,391.0 m²) coated within the 45 working days as noted in the bid.
One major component to staying on schedule was to use quick-cure coatings, which came from the crew’s local ABC Supply store. They used a system with one coat of primer that took only two hours to cure and two finish coats that each took between two and four hours to cure. And those numbers were possible even in colder temperatures — a good thing since nighttime readings often dropped below 40 (4.4 °C) and occasionally hit freezing.
The crew varied in size between six and eight total members, including Malkin and a foreman.
Using safety flags, the crew cleaned the 30- to 35-year-old R-panel roofs with a bristle brush and Mule-Hide’s 115 Cleaner. They rinsed the roofs off with a power washer using clean water, which came from tanks that the crew brought to the site, since the airport lacked sufficient running water from its wells for them. “Volunteer firemen from the local fire department filled our tank multiple times during the cleaning stage,” Malkin explained.
“This was Frye Roofing’s first project using the Silicone Roof Coating System and they took all the necessary steps to make sure they did everything right,” said Hank Bonney, Mule-Hide’s territory manager for the Blue Ridge district. “They asked me to give a training seminar so everyone on the crew would be comfortable using the products. They had me inspect the roof before they began applying the coatings to ensure everything was warranty-eligible. I visited the jobsite several times, and they sent me photos along the way, so they could ask questions and I could offer advice.”
With the metal ready, the crew moved on to prep all seams, end laps, fasteners, flashings, and penetrations. They removed old tape, mastic, and caulking when possible, covering cleaned or complex areas with 100 percent Silicone Sealant, and uncleaned areas with the silicone embedded with Mule-Hide’s Titex 325 Polyester Fabric.
Surrounded by expensive aircraft and nestled in a windy valley, overspray was a real concern on this job. To avoid issues altogether, the crew opted to apply the coatings using rollers instead of spray equipment. They also played what the Frye Roofing crew called “musical aircraft,” a version of musical chairs where they constantly moved planes around to different hangars when possible.
Because the project was on an active airfield, the crew had to be escorted by an airport representative at all times. Once up top, the crew’s flight path continued toward applying the coatings. Wearing fall protection, goggles, and gloves, they applied one coat of Mule-Hide’s Si 2-Part Epoxy Primer at an average rate of ½ gallon (1.0 L) per 100 square feet (9.3 m²). The primer acts as a bleed blocker and prevents additional rust from forming.
Then they moved onto the 100 percent Silicone Roof Coating topcoat, which was applied in two coats. Each layer was applied at an average rate of 1 gallon (3.8 L) per 100 square feet (9.3 m²). “The coats were applied in opposite directions, ensuring there were no pinholes left in the finished roof,” explained Malkin. “Gray was used for the basecoat to make it easy for the crew to tell which areas had been coated and were ready for the finish coat.”
The Mule-Hide coatings are solvent-free, and the white of the topcoat in particular meets the requirements of the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC). That bright white required the crew to wear safety sunglasses when applying it. Safety equipment came from Uline.
In addition to the wind and imminent winter weather, there were other weather-related issues that the crew had to contend with. “A heavy coat of dew covered the roofs nearly every morning, so the crew started their day using leaf blowers to remove the water,” according to Malkin. The crew let the sun do the rest of the work, drying any remaining moisture before applying the coatings in the afternoon.
It should be no surprise that at an airfield, the view from the sky is an important one. Not only was Frye Roofing able to repair the leaks on the metal roofs with the new coating system but they were also able to give the rooftops a new look — something that didn’t go unnoticed by some of the airport’s most important visitors. Word was that the pilots loved the finish, too. “Everyone comments on how great it looks from the air,” noted Malkin.
“The team at the Mercer County Airport is ecstatic with the results,” Bonney seconded. “Pilots flying over the airport have said that it’s just amazing to look down and see what the new roofs look like. The transformation is night and day.”
The coatings project was completed in just 26 days — significantly fewer than the allotted 45. “Our crews take pride in every job we do. However, this one was special,” Malkin said. “This one was about helping local business leaders who continue to help our community grow.”
“I have a long-standing relationship with Frye Roofing. It is always a pleasure working with them because they are known for their quality work, they are extremely conscientious, and they have an outstanding work ethic. This job was no exception. They did a stellar job. They all pulled together, working side-by-side to provide a high-quality roof that will serve the airport well for years to come,” Bonney said.
It was a sky-high finish for this coatings crew!