'Light Bulb' brightens the flightline

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amy Perry
  • 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
He is been called 'Light Bulb' for so long that only a handful of people know his real name. When asked, he tells them he is sure 'Light Bulb' is his real name.

Randy Westervelt, a high voltage electrician with the 437th Civil Engineer Squadron's exterior electric shop here, works day and night to keep the airfield lights burning bright.

"We work with voltage that can be the difference of sudden death and slow death," said Westervelt. "Of course we have good equipment and good safety gear, but if you do something wrong, you'll either be burnt for life and disfigured or dead. So, you just make it day to day with the dangers, and get through it."

Aside from the red, blue and green lights that light up pathways, there are also strobe lights and approach lights to guide aircraft to the runways.

There are lighted signs to let the pilots know how much room they have left to stop. More lighted signs are being set up on the airfield to let pilots know where they are going.

"It doesn't look bad during the day," said Westervelt. "But at night, it's a different story. There are more than 400 lights that I have to maintain."

The lights on the airfield are connected underground and run to the airfield lighting vault.

The building shows the dangers of the job, said Westervelt. Black marks run up one side of the building where a fire broke out many years ago. Caution signs are posted on every regulator with the message "High Voltage" to remind electricians constantly of the hazards of their job.

Westervelt said the biggest problem for the airfield lighting is lightning.

"Any time lightning is in the area, it takes something out," said Westervelt. "Lightning can destroy the light regulators. The lightning will strike one of the lights on the airfield and will follow the circuit all the way back to the airfield lighting vault."

While there are safeguards intact to prevent the regulator from blowing out, occasionally lightning still gets through. Lightning struck a regulator recently and fried the circuit board.

Aside from lightning, airfield lights are also prey to lawnmowers, contractors and vehicles. The lights are easily unnoticed and run over.

At night, base operations personnel drive around to find all the lights that are out, usually two to three times a night. They give Westervelt a list in the morning of which lights need to be replaced.

Westervelt said he is the main electrician on the flightline, but if he needs help, his flight is always there for him.

"If I have a circuit problem, I get someone from the shop to help," said Westervelt. "I can't find one of those problems on my own."

Westervelt has worked here since 1983. His military experience goes back 15 more years.

"I joined the Army in 1968 during the Vietnam War," said Westervelt. "I joined at a great time, where they didn't give you a choice. It was either serve your country or go to prison. So, I decided to become a tank commander.

"I figured I had it made then. I had all this steel around me and (thought) that no one would mess with me," Westervelt said, "but that was the first thing (the enemy) wanted to take out! We also had these exhaust pipes on the tank that the enemy loved to put missiles in. I just kept thinking, I did something stupid here."

After leaving the military, Westervelt came to work with a propane gas company in Charleston that worked with South Carolina Electric and Gas.

After a district manager of SCE&G noticed his work ethic, Westervelt was asked if he wanted a job as a lineman.

"The manager said there were 60 people ahead of me, but if I wanted the job I could have it," said Westervelt. "It's hard work and long hours. For example, when there's a storm, the poor linemen are out trying to fix lights."

Westervelt said he sometimes wondered how he got into the high voltage career field, but still enjoys his job because it is something different every day.

"When I go to work, I know I don't have a boring desk job with lots of paperwork ahead of me," said Westervelt. "When I go into base operations in the morning, I don't know what my day is going to be. It can be a good day or a very bad day."