News: Cannon behind the scenes: reliance on radar
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. - It's no secret that Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., conducts routine training flights to and from the base. However, those planes don't monitor themselves once airborne. The radar troops are a key part in a network of communication to ensure Cannon's pilots can maneuver safely through the air.
"Most individuals don't realize how essential radar is to Air Traffic Control," said Tech. Sgt. Heidi Hovorka, 27th Special Operations Communications Squadron Radar Flight NCOIC. "Without transmissions from our systems, the Radar Approach Control and the Air Traffic Control tower wouldn't be able to regulate the air traffic in and out of Cannon."
The radar flight maintains the Airport Surveillance Radar as well as the Digital ASR, which is a newer version of the system. Both systems monitor aircraft within 60 nautical miles of the base and provide satellite imagery to other agencies at Cannon.
"The ASR equipment is from the 1960s and isn't as user-friendly as the DASR," said Hovorka. "The DASR will work with the new STARS system in the RAPCON to provide very advanced imaging to our controllers at Cannon. We work with RAPCON and the tower to provide pinpoint imaging and location of all aircraft within Cannon's airspace."
The radar flight also works on the Next Generation Radar at Melrose Air Force Range which provides the weather team at Cannon Doppler imagery needed for accurate forecasting.
"We have communication lines that run from the NEXRAD at Melrose to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque," said Staff Sgt. Terry Owens, radar maintainer. "Our NEXRAD is the only weather Doppler in the northeastern part of New Mexico. The system services more than 780,000 residents within that area."
The ASR radar systems at Cannon cost roughly $3.5 million each. The NEXRAD at Melrose is valued at approximately $2 million. All systems are maintained by merely 13 radar troops assigned to the base.
"We've been called the forgotten maintainers," said Owens. "This job may not be one of the most glorious in the Air Force, but knowing that the radars we maintain are keeping our aircraft in the sky makes the long shifts, night hours and tedious maintenance all worthwhile."