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62nd CS’ meteorological and navigation section: Paving the way for safe landings

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Airman First Class Jarrod Wetherhill an airfield systems maintenance technician assigned to the 62nd Communications Squadron, uses a Portable Instrument Landing System Receiver to measure a specific radio frequency on the airfield on May 22, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Airman First Class Jarrod Wetherhill an airfield systems maintenance technician assigned to the 62nd Communications Squadron, uses a Portable Instrument Landing System Receiver to measure a specific radio frequency on the airfield on May 22, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

Senior Airman Nicholas Higbee, an airfield systems maintenance technician assigned to the 62nd Communications Squadron, performs corrosion control on an antenna situated atop the Glideslope tower on Tuesday May 22, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)(Released)

Senior Airman Nicholas Higbee, an airfield systems maintenance technician assigned to the 62nd Communications Squadron, performs corrosion control on an antenna situated atop the Glideslope tower on Tuesday May 22, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)(Released)

Staff Sergeant Jessica Wilhelm, right, assists Senior Airman Nicholas Higbee, adjust his harness on Tuesday May 22, 2007 prior to performing corrosion control on an antenna situated atop the Glideslope tower. SSgt Wilhelm and SrA Higbee are airfield systems maintenance technicians assigned to the 62nd Communications Sqaudron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)(Released)

Staff Sergeant Jessica Wilhelm, right, assists Senior Airman Nicholas Higbee, adjust his harness on Tuesday May 22, 2007 prior to performing corrosion control on an antenna situated atop the Glideslope tower. SSgt Wilhelm and SrA Higbee are airfield systems maintenance technicians assigned to the 62nd Communications Sqaudron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)(Released)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- In a region known for overcast skies and incessant rain showers, the chances are good C-17 Globemaster III pilots don't land at McChord very often on sight alone because dense fog, heavy rain, sleet, strong winds and occasional snowfall can reduce visibility, forcing them to depend on their navigation instruments. 

The 62nd Communications Squadron's meteorological and navigation section maintains all of the equipment that makes it possible for each aircraft to land safely in bad weather. 

The section monitors and maintains eight instrument shelters, seven of which are on the flightline.

Each piece of navigation equipment inside the shelters emits a radio wave that helps give the incoming aircraft's navigation system an accurate approach path. 

Periodic maintenance checks are all part of keeping the shelters up and running, said Staff Sgt. Jessica Wilhelm, 62nd CS. 

Each instrument location is housed in a climate-controlled atmosphere, but sometimes nature can cause chaos. 

"Birds can land on them and spiders can build webs around them," Sergeant Wilhelm said. 

Though seemingly insignificant, the small disturbances could cause issues with the signal, she said. 

The section is also constantly checking to see that other outside disturbances or power outages haven't caused the instruments to drift outside their parameters, she said. 

A signal operating outside its parameters could have tragic repercussions. 

"The signals have to be accurate because there is very little margin of error," said Tech. Sgt. William Dixon, 62nd CS. 

If an aircraft comes in off the center line due to an instrument malfunction, it could miss the runway and possibly crash, he said. 

In addition to paving the way for pilots to have an accurate path to the runway, the section also makes communication possible between all parties involved in the mission and services the equipment that delivers accurate weather information. 

The section maintains the radios and weather equipment at the command post, base weather and base operations in Bldg. 1172 and the radios in the control tower that each use to communicate with incoming aircraft. 

The weather equipment at various locations around the flightline collects data and sends it to a central terminal, Sergeant Dixon said. 

Using the weather data, base officials are able to determine if the runway provides the safest conditions for landing when it comes to headwinds or tailwinds, Sergeant Wilhelm said. 

The section's responsibilities even reach to other locations, as they maintain the weather systems at Fort Lewis and an automated weather observation station in Yakima. 

When it comes to landing airplanes at McChord, no matter the conditions, if the meteorological and navigational section's equipment is fully operational, pilots have a clear path to the runway and Airmen can continue to accomplish their global airlift mission.