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Airfield systems: Bridging the gap between nerds, jocks

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nathan Maysonet
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Here at Laughlin, pilot training is king and hundreds of students each year earn their wings. Every Airman on base plays a vital role in this mission of producing pilots.

One team critical to keeping pilots safely in the air, is Laughlin's Airfield Systems. Its Airmen work day and night, with little fanfare, to ensure much needed airfield communications equipment and systems remain operational.

"We don't introduce ourselves as (communications) because of how unique our job is compared to other communications Airmen," said Tech. Sgt. Cassandra Denton, 47th Communications Squadron lead technician. "We bridge the gap between the nerds and jocks, those behind the computers and those in the field."

To appreciate the role airfield systems plays in flight line operations one must look to history. When the Army's Signal Corp pilots first took flight in the Wright brothers' designed Signal Corps No. 1 the process to launch and land an airplane was difficult. Only a handful could be launched at a time, and tracking was done with binoculars and communications were nonexistent.

As technologies improved and advanced radios, weather forecasting equipment, tactical air navigation systems and more came to pass; the ease of launching aircraft and maintaining a heavily populated airspace became a reality.

"Our equipment enables us to contact planes in the air, contact Air Education and Training Command and any number of other areas on base and beyond," said Airman 1st Class Bradley Ramsey, 47th CS airfield systems technician. "It lets pilots see the unseen and gives them an angle of descent as they approach for landing. Our equipment acts like lighthouses of old showing pilots that Laughlin is here and guides them in."

To maintain this array of technology, including more than 180 different types of radios, two instrument landing systems, one navigation system and two full weather systems, the team must climb crawl and repel across base diagnosing problems rarely covered in the books.

"We're like squirrels climbing all over base and going back and forth on roofs and towers trying to fix an outage or other problem day or night," said Denton. "I enjoy the randomness though, as soon as you make plans something odd happens with the equipment and there is always a new challenge."

According to the team, it's this randomness that makes the career field so unique and challenging.

"Sometimes things are smooth and problems simple to diagnose while other times something breaks and it all goes out the window," said Staff Sgt. Tanner Spani, 47th CS airfield systems technician. "Rain or shine, a lot of things can break or go wrong that are outside of our training. It's challenging but rewarding to understand, learn and to teach what you discovered."

"I've been here the longest and I still find something new with component maintenance," said Denton. "I've seen something the others haven't so we teach and train on it."

Regardless of the challenges, the team strives to live and work by a basic principle that applies equally to electronic maintenance as it does every serving Airmen, keep it simple. No matter how difficult, odd or unique a situation the simplest solution is often the right one.

"We especially, tend to over-think things when we are in inspection mode," said Spani. "We want to follow a routine and look at a technical order but how about just taking a step back and looking at the situation because sometimes the problems just a loose plug."

So the next time you see a tower by the flight line, check the local weather or make a call on your radio just remember that airfield systems keeps it up and running.

"We're a lot like a house," said Spani. "Laughlin is the foundation, the planes the brick and the equipment we maintain is the mortar that keeps the mission together."