This $750K ‘Ferrari of Snowplows’ Clears an Airport Runway In Just 15 Minutes

These babies use massive 24-foot plows to get the job done.

byStef Schrader|
This $750K ‘Ferrari of Snowplows’ Clears an Airport Runway In Just 15 Minutes

It used to take the Indianapolis International Airport around 45 minutes just to clear one runway of snow. That wasn't cutting it, so the airport went bigger and cut down its plow time to just a third of what it was. How'd it do that?

Meet the insanely huge MB5. Indianapolis Airport Authority Executive Director Mario Rodriguez described these as the "Ferrari of Snowplows" to the Indianapolis Star, with each plow costing $750,000. 

With these, the Indy Star says it takes as little as 15 minutes to clear a runway, drastically reducing the airport's downtime during the busy holiday season. Local station RTV6 reported that it can take around 30 minutes to finish up, but still, that's a huge improvement that Director of Operations and Maintenance Matt Lewis describes as "night and day" over the old snow removal procedure. 

Previously, the airport relied on dump trucks with plow attachments, but they simply weren't up to snuff. Indianapolis' longest runway is 11,200 feet long and the city gets an average of 25 inches of snow per year, per RTV6

The MB5, on the other hand, is purpose-built to get snow out of the way. It features a 24-foot-wide plow up front as well as a 22-foot-wide broom on the back. Two fuel tanks that hold a combined 75 gallons of diesel feed the two engines that power these beasts.

Airports are prohibited from using salt on runways by the Federal Aviation Administration, so the MB5 also has a dry chemical spiller on the back.

"If we could use salt, our lives would be much easier," Senior Director of Airport Operations and Public Safety Keith Berlen told the Indianapolis Star. "But it doesn't mix with aircraft."

To that, I've got to say, "hard no." I've seen the structurally questionable cars up near salt-happy Buffalo and have to side with the FAA on this. I don't want to have an airport delay so some poor mechanic can patch an armadillo-sized rust hole in the side of the plane. But I digress.

The airport started using the MB5 plows in 2013, when an order of nine plows made weathering harsh winters far easier, as they soon found out. The Indianapolis Star writes: 

The airport purchased nine of the giant snowplows — called MB5s — in 2013, said Matt Lewis, the airport's director of operations and maintenance. Each plow costs $750,000, Rodriguez told IndyStar. 

Coincidentally, that winter was rough. It snowed nearly nine inches in December 2013, a whopping 27 inches in January 2014 and more than 16 inches in February 2014, according to National Weather Service data. 

"We really lucked out that way," Lewis said. 

Indianapolis International Airport's MB5 fleet has since grown to 11 plows. They have to train workers how to use them ahead of Indy's snow season, with plows forming a diagonal line as they move down a runway to clear it as soon as possible. 

Indy's MB5 snowplows testing in snow-clearing formation. , Screencap via RTV6

Wind determines the direction the plows line up, as the plows would rather work with the wind to let it help blow more snow out of the way. 

The plow fleet has outgrown its old hangar at the airport, so the Indianapolis International Airport is constructing a new $9.7 million snow removal equipment building, the Indianapolis Star reports. It is set to open before next winter. 

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