SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC, UNITED STATES
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -The morning air was still cool as Airmen walked out on to the flightline. It had not yet heated from the hot summer sun.
In the darkness of the early hours, the airmen turned on the air field lights that flooded the grass and concrete pathways with bright colors, said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Harrington, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical system technician. Over the next hour, the airmen drove up and down the air field in the silence before the sunrise searching for burned out lights.
"Every morning we come in at 4 a.m. and turn on all the lights," Harrington said. "It makes the airfield look like a big Christmas tree. It's a pretty cool sight."
There are 3,500 to 4,000 lights on the airfield which allow pilots to fly in hours of darkness.
According to Harrington, the airfield would have to shut down if the lights were not working, and a mission of 20th CES is to keep the lights working so the runways stay operational.
"Flying at night is when the lights are most important," says Capt. Ryan Wilmes, 77th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, "The airplane doesn't land its self, and pilots need to be able to see the runway with their eyes. During the day time you can see concrete, but at night everything is black. The lighting outlines the runway."
"The lights are used to land aircraft," said Harrington. "It marks everything there is to do. Every light out there means something different."
There are multiple kinds of lights and each color represents something. Strobe lights or sequence flashers are used in inclement weather and let the pilot know where the runway is. The runways are outlined in white-amber light. Red lights mark the end of the runways. Green lights outline the threshold or the beginning of the runway and sequence flashers guide pilots in the air.
Daily, there are about 10 light bulbs that go out. However, lightning storms during summer can cause that number to be significantly higher.
The light-emitting diode or LED lights, which outline the taxi ways from the in blue light, need to be changed every six months. Strobe light bulbs on the other hand are supposed to be changed out every 300 hours or 12 and a half days.
"Without the lights, a normal landing can easily become very dangerous," Harrington said.
F-16 weighs about 26,700 pound with internal fuel and when they are landing they are flying at speeds of 180 to 200 mph.
"To be able to put the plane down without breaking something, you need to know if you are on the guide path," said Wilmes. "You can fly some instrumental approaches and some procedure approaches to get you to where you are in a position to land, but without seeing the actual threshold you won't know where to aim at."
The lights are used every day, said Wilmes. Anytime the airfield is open they are on. Shaw might not be using them but other airplanes transition through here for various reasons.
"It is satisfying to see planes fly, because it feels like we had a part of it and a part in the mission of the Air Force," said Staff Sgt. Julius Givens, 20th CES electrical systems technician.
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This work, 20th CES lights the way, by SrA Krystal Wright, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.