Huge blow dryer clears runways at Paine Field

EVERETT — Jet engines aren’t just for flying airplanes anymore.

They also can be used to power giant blow dryers.

One can be yours for only $1,000 an hour, plus gas.

Paine Field rented one on Sunday to thaw out its runway after it became apparent they would run out of de-icer, director Dave Waggoner said.

The airport rented the engine from Lakeside Industries in Lacey. It’s a J37 model from an old military fighter plane, and it’s been modified to run on regular automobile fuel, airport operations director Bruce Goetz said. It’s mounted on a trailer and equipped with a funnellike device that blows hot air onto the runway.

“I think we burned right about 1,000 gallons,” Goetz said. “Boy, it did the job.”

Paine Field, Arlington Airport and Snohomish’s Harvey Field had to close to traffic at least part of the time in the two days after the big snowfall that hit Western Washington on Saturday night.

Saturday’s snowfall came on top of several inches of snow and ice remaining on the ground from the week before.

“This is the mother of all storms for airports,” Waggoner said. “This is the worst I’ve seen in 17 years at the airport.”

Paine Field reopened Monday afternoon after closing Saturday and Sunday nights because of the snowstorm.

The airport had sporadic closures during the day Sunday and Monday, either while crews were testing the runway for friction, applying deicer or using the jet blow dryer, Waggoner said. In some cases, it was open only by prior arrangement, he said.

Small planes were not using the airport after the storm hit Saturday night, Waggoner said.

“Part of the problem is just getting from the hangars to the main runway,” Waggoner said “We just don’t have the ability to plow to all the hangars.”

On Monday, airport officials wanted to get the runway usable again because Boeing has three planes to deliver in the coming days, Waggoner said.

Paine Field, owned and operated by Snohomish County, spent $100,000 on chemical de-icers over the course of the past week. Waggoner estimated the total bill for adjusting to the weather is probably closer to $150,000 after adding in the rental and gas for the jet engine, rental of a road grader and overtime for staff.

“Snow is very expensive,” deputy airport director Bill Dolan said.

Arlington Municipal Airport was shut down on Monday, with only the airport’s emergency airlift helicopter pad available for use.

“We lost the battle with the snow Sunday night,” airport manager Rob Putnam said. “It was just more snow than we could handle. We were worn out and so we shut her down.”

Crews had been working 12-hour shifts to keep the runways plowed and clear before the decision was made to close the airfield at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, Putnam said.

Monday, an effort was being mounted to clear the main runway, but it will be days before the airport is open again, he said.

“Most of our tenants can’t get out anyway,” Putnam said. “But when the thaw comes, we should be ready to open the airport quickly.”

Harvey Field in Snohomish was closed Sunday and Monday, assistant airport manager Heather Waldow said. Crews were plowing regularly, and it’s possible the airport could open again today, she said.

“It’s kind of a morning-by-morning decision,” Waldow said.

Herald Writer Gale Fiege contributed to this story.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or

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