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Maintainers help control the sky keeping Balad radars 'rollin'

Senior Airman Manchester performs preventative maintenance on a UPA-59 decoder during a daily inspection of one of the TPS-75 air control and warning radar at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Airman Manchester, a 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron radar maintenance technician, is deployed from Hill AFB, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Olufemi A. Owolabi)

Senior Airman Manchester performs preventative maintenance on a UPA-59 decoder during a daily inspection of one of the TPS-75 air control and warning radar at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Airman Manchester, a 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron radar maintenance technician, is deployed from Hill AFB, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Olufemi A. Owolabi)

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Located about 50 feet above the ground are Balad's surveillance radar systems which keep running around the clock, searching the sky in order to maintain air superiority. These systems require daily maintenance to stay running.

Airmen of the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron's ground radar maintainers ensure they provide a 24-hour-a-day watch and maintenance to keep these radar systems rolling.

"We simply keep the radars running by doing preventative maintenance, and we restore them when they fail," said Master Sgt. Christopher Hall, non-commissioned officer in charge of radar maintenance here deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "When a radar breaks, we have to figure out why it broke and fix it. Sometimes it is an easy fix, and other times, we can spend several days troubleshooting a difficult problem."

The everyday job varies for these Airmen. Their job includes inspections, lubrications, alignments and other preventative maintenance of the system. They also repair ground radar subassemblies, including antennas, transmitters, receivers, operator training devices, radar beacon systems, display systems and related communications systems.

"There are miles of wiring and literally thousands of circuits combined to detect aircraft 200 miles out and display it on an operator display," Sergeant Hill said. "Every day we are fixing a portion of these radars. One day we are like auto mechanics lubricating the rotary joint and changing the coolant; the next we are like computer maintenance repairing one of the processors."

The complexity of the job performed by these radars requires them to be operational at all time. The radar collects critical battlefield information in the air and provides close air support to the troops on the ground. Though radar technicians do not go over the wire to put rounds downrange, they believe they are still able to provide support directly to the troops in the fight.

As a result, radar maintenance technicians here work tirelessly -- rolling up their sleeves, getting down and dirty everyday to clean, adjust and maintain the radar.

"Without radar maintenance, our equipment would fail, and our planes would be 'flying blind,'" said Senior Airman Stephen Manchester, 727th EACS ground radar technician deployed from Hill AFB, Utah. "A radar maintainer needs to be tireless. Every minute the radar goes down can be the difference between an American living or dying. This means we never rest, and there is no room for error. So we are constantly fixing, adjusting, or cleaning our radars to meet standards."

Radar technicians take pride in what they do everyday here. Through proper maintenance of the two A/N TPS-75 radars, maintainers help provide direction to the battle field by tracking friendly aircraft and watching for the enemy who try to sneak in. It also keeps the skies safe by separating aircraft so they do not collide into each other.

He said the job requires a lot of attention to details because the radar is a conglomeration of thousands of different signals and components that work together to produce a final product - a working air picture.

On a daily basis, maintainers derive satisfaction when they track down and fix any problem.

"As ground radar technicians, we learn something new everyday," said Staff Sgt. Chris Oliver, 727th EACS deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. "There is always a different problem to work on every time, and anytime we work on a problem, we learn something different. Therefore, a ground radar technician must be smart, patient and must have lots of innovative initiatives in order to get the job done. "

Despite the complexity of the radars, these Airmen ensure no problem occurs without a solution from them.

"It is a great feeling to track down an elusive problem; the job satisfaction is definitely there," said Staff Sgt. Robert Mayo, shift leader of radar maintenance here also deployed from Hill AFB. "Getting the radar up and transmitting, tracking the aircraft and making sure things are running smooth is a tall order, it's nice when things finally fall into place."