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'Runway in a trailer' provides lights

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Let there be light.

Nowhere is that plea more important than at remote Alaska village airstrips, especially in an emergency.

A small Anchorage company called Greatland Laser has partnered with a New Jersey company to deliver portable runway emergency lighting systems to two Alaska villages, Newtok and Kwigillingok.

The team of Galaxy Litebeams of Egg Harbor, N.J. and Greatland Laser of Anchorage have a $1.4 million five-year contract with the state of Alaska to provide portable emergency lighting systems to 42 emergency landing zones and seven runways at remote villages.

Greatland, owned by president Jim O'Meara, a 30-year Alaska pilot, will get a small percentage of the deal.

"We brought light to the villages, and you can feel comfortable knowing that the life blood of Alaska, which is aviation, can perform commercial operations beyond daylight hours," O'Meara said.

The portable lighting systems allow emergency aviation units to evacuate seriously injured or ill personnel from the villages at night in inclement weather. In the past, the sick or injured had to wait until morning or until the weather cleared.

The Galaxy cold cathode lights and the Greatland Laser green laser alignment systems have been met with enthusiastic acceptance by village members and local pilots since the landing zone deliveries started in March 2003, with successful evacuations at several locations, including Angoon.

"They are very happy to have those lights out there," O'Meara said.

O'Meara said it normally costs between $1 million and $2 million to install lights on a 3,000-foot airstrip.

"We brought to the table an alternative to very expensive lighting programs that were too costly to establish in rural Alaska," O'Meara said. "We did it at a fraction of the cost."

The key to the system is to package the lights in a rugged, weatherproof trailer for quick deployment. The trailer, built by Plaschem Supply and Consulting Inc. of Anchorage, carries lights and a laser system that can be easily towed with a small pickup, snowmobile or ATV. The trailers solved the challenge of transporting the portable lights in the Bush, O'Meara said.

O'Meara has five patents on his laser light, which he licenses to Galaxy in the partnership. The laser isn't new, but O'Meara's application is.

"Nobody's figured out how to draw a line with it, and that's what we do," he said. "We figured that out."

The idea for the laser came on Halloween in 1997, as Jim and his wife Kim were dressing their 4-year-old daughter Amanda in her fairy princess costume. As Jim began flashing his daughter's laser pen pointer, used as a wand in her costume, the idea came.

Greatland also has a $300,000 contract with the FAA to design the laser system for installation at Fairbanks International Airport.



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