Ensuring a safe flight in bad weather can be challenging, but having a reliable air traffic control and landing systems team can make sticking the landing much smoother.
The 86th Operations Support Squadron ATCALS flight maintains dozens of air traffic control radio antennas across the base, furthering the mission to generate and employ airpower around the globe.
Maintaining equipment is a huge part of the job. Their maintenance includes Instrument Landing Systems on multiple runways, the tactical air navigation system and many air-to-ground radios.
“They are the key enablers of the strategic power projection platform for United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa,” said Lt. Col. Jason Shephard, 86 OSS commander. “They monitor, repair and maintain all air traffic, landing, radio and weather systems. And (climbing antennas) is how they will have to repair, if needed, an important component to keep these systems operational.”
The ATCALS flight checks all the Instrument Landing Systems parameters regularly to ensure the antenna towers and monitors are performing correctly. Necessary adjustments are made to keep the airfield open and the ILS in compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organization standards. These checks include performing visual inspection of the navigational aids and performing on-the-ground measurements.
“When most people at Ramstein are at home for the night getting ready for bed, our mission is just starting,” said Tech. Sgt. Richard Biggins, 86 OSS airfield systems NCO in charge. “No matter the weather, we are working through the night to ensure that the ATCALS at Ramstein are ready for use.”
Ramstein has the only category III runway in the command and the only military maintained CAT III in the Air Force. This system means the runway is a zero-visibility auto-land system that requires additional checks to verify the system is performing as required. To check the system, the ATCALS flight uses a specially built test vehicle to drive the length of the runway multiple times with an antenna 12 meters in height to simulate an aircraft and ensure the signals are being brought directly down the centerline.
“With the 86th OSS’s hard work, aircraft can still safely operate in and out of Ramstein with low visibility,” Shephard said.
The talented Airmen in the ATCALS flight play a key role in keeping the airfield open and working, taking part in any aircraft that lands, takes off or crosses Ramstein’s airspace.
“The ATCALS team exemplifies the very best of the 86th Operations Group,” said Col. Gerald Donohue, 86th Operations Group commander. “As we approach winter, it’s inspiring to know that these Airmen will enthusiastically climb towers in snow and ice to return our systems to service. I couldn’t be more proud.”