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Ground radar techs: keeping the planes flying high

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shen-Chia Chu
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
The 436th Communications Squadron provides more than troubleshooting for computers and telephones; many may not know that one aspect of their job is to help keep planes flying.

Ground radar system Airmen provide 24-hour support to the 436th Operations Support Squadron Radar Approach Control facility, known as RAPCON. They ensure the equipment that identifies aircraft works properly for Dover Air Force Base's daily flying mission.

"Our job is to maintain ground-based radars on and off-base," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Wilfong, 436th CS ground radar systems technician. "Our mission is important, because the radars we maintain identify objects in the air: from aircraft to weather patterns that are within a certain radius of the base."

RAPCON must know the altitude and direction of flights by using the radar. Operations are able to run smoothly thanks to the ground radar system shop at Dover AFB, said Staff Sgt. Nicole Hall, RAPCON watch supervisor.

"The ground-radar technicians are [very] mechanically inclined in their line of work," said Sergeant Hall. "They are friendly, professional and well-trained Airmen who are flawless in their work."

Sergeant Hall added the technicians always come right away to fix a problem, and the mission wouldn't be accomplished without them.

"Without us, air traffic would not function properly if the system is broken," said Sergeant Wilfong.

The small shop of five Airmen is also responsible for the airport surveillance radar on base and the off-base weather radar called Next Generation Weather Radar.

Sergeant Wilfong said his shop works closely with RAPCON to understand some of their responsibilities as well as the flying aspect in order to best know how to fix the equipment.

"The radar can be compared to a traffic light for aircraft flying near the base," said Sergeant Wilfong. "The RAPCON is able to communicate with planes using the information from the radar, and we're the mechanics who repair the 'traffic light' to ensure it's working for RAPCON to direct plane traffic."

Directing safe aircraft passage is serious work as lives are at stake, said Sergeant Wilfong.

"We go through several different kinds of checklists such as daily inspections, aligning and adjustments, and other preventative maintenance ensuring that we maintain the equipment properly because the slightest detail is crucial for the mission," he said.

A ground radar technician's maintenance list includes repairing damaged equipment from the weather, power surges or lightning, and sometimes it's as simple as readjusting and realigning, but finding out what needs adjusting is the hard part, according to Sergeant Wilfong.

Sergeant Wilfong says he enjoys his work because it requires a lot of critical thinking to troubleshoot problems.

"It's like solving a puzzle that has multiple problems, but there isn't just one way to solve the problem," he said.

Though they may have a small workforce, the sergeant says he feels like he's a working piece playing his part for the bigger picture.

"I can't imagine the radar not being fixed because it's so important and impacting to the mission, it needs to be up and running all the time," said Sergeant Hall. "The ground radar Airmen are the backbone helping us when it comes to accomplishing the mission and I appreciate all the hard work they do."