New system, safer flights

by Tech. Sgt. Mona Ferrell
U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service

***image1***Thanks to a new software-based program being implemented here, terminal instrument procedures specialists will soon be able to support flying missions within U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s area of operations more efficiently and with increased safety.
The new system, called the Global Procedure Designer, allows the specialists to provide a better evaluation of obstacles and terrain in the arrival and departure path for aircraft, said Capt. Mack Coker, air procedures flight commander for USAFE.
An instrument procedure is essentially a map that tells pilots what altitude and heading to fly in to cover the most efficient and, more importantly, the safest, route into and out of an airport, he said.
“TERPs specialists basically develop road maps for the sky,” Captain Coker said. “Pilots need to be aware of any obstacles and the terrain in their path, and we’re responsible for establishing and updating those flight procedures; usually within a 100-mile radius of an airfield.”
The specialists’ responsibility became increasingly important in 1996 when a plane carrying U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown crashed into a Croatian mountainside, killing him and 34 other passengers. The pilot was trying to land in foul weather.
“After the crash, the secretary of defense mandated that all military troop-carrying or cargo aircraft flying foreign instrument procedures must first have a Department of Defense TERPs specialist evaluate the procedure in question to evaluate for terrain and man-made obstructions,” Captain Coker said.
But, while the job used to entail tedious calculations that would take hours or even days to do by hand, the new software-based system can provide a more complete evaluation of obstacles and terrain in a fraction of the time.
“For a simple comparison, the software that TERPs specialists use now for obstacle and terrain evaluation can evaluate up to about 10,000 obstacles,” said Master Sgt. Whit Morrison Jr., Air Force Flight Standards Agency training and international instrument procedures chief. “But, the new system can evaluate 23 million terrain and obstacle points, so (it) is much more thorough and correct.”
USAFE’s terminal instrument procedures facility is the first organization in the world to implement the new system, Captain Coker said. However, the program has been in development nearly seven years and is going to be released to all Air Force major commands after specialized training has been completed.
“Ramstein Air Base is in the midst of the Rhein-Main Transition Program,” the captain said, referring to returning Rhein-Main Air Base back to the German government and moving all flying assets from Rhein-Main to Spangdahlem and Ramstein Air Bases, in Germany, by December 2005. “Part of the program consists of Ramstein and Spangdahlem getting instrument procedures developed to international criteria, a new feature never possessed by the old software.”