Team Offutt restores lighthouse in the sky

  • Published
  • By L. Cunningham
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

The Tactical Air Navigation System is the first navigational aid to be back in service June 25, 2019, at Offutt Air Force Base.

The TACAN system was only two years old when the transponder cabinet in which it is housed was damaged by flood waters March. While the outer shell remained intact, the inside components were heavily impaired. The TACAN rack which was still under contract, is being provided at no cost to Offutt AFB saving approximately $375,000.

“This system is vital to our readiness in the 55th Wing,” said Col. Gavin Marks, 55th Wing commander. “So many mission sets and tenant units here rely on this technology to safely navigate in and around Offutt (AFB) and we are glad to have it operational again in order to maximize our capabilities.”

The TACAN’s newest technology was not only new to Offutt AFB, but also to the Air Force, so parts and supplies required for any repairs were not yet available.

The TACAN had to be built, then tested for Offutt AFB frequency undergoing a three week testing phase before being shipped to Offutt AFB.

It was originally designed by the Navy to be used on aircraft carriers, constantly radiating a signal, allowing the aircraft to follow it in and be able to land. It had built-in countermeasures due to the susceptibility to jamming during the Cold War and Vietnam era.

The beacon radiates 200 nautical miles, 360 degrees so that when an aircraft gets above visual flight range, it has to use all instrument systems to navigate. It operates on 120 volts AC, just like plugging into a wall and can transmit up to 10,000 watts so that it is able to radiate out to the aircraft.

“So it’s a little beacon, kind of like lighthouses,” said Master Sgt. Travis Meyer, 55th Operational Support Squadron Radar Airfield Weather Systems section chief, “They call it the lighthouse in the sky.”

Repairs were completed by an eight-member radar airfield weather systems team, 55th OSS and a member of the Thales Company from Kansas City.

The team removed the damaged components, and the Thales Company contractor installed the new system the first day. The second day, they aligned the system and performed peak tuning in order to optimize the electronics.

The last day, the Federal Aviation Administration used an aircraft to certify Offutt AFB’s newly installed system from the air. The FAA validated and aligned Offutt AFB’s system with the magnetic compass, assuring that when the air traffic control tower tells a pilot to vector on this radial, they will be on that correct magnetic radial and be able to use the signal being emitted safely.

“Completing this project took a great deal of work from numerous agencies around the installation as well as the FAA and Air Force Flight Standards Agency,” Marks said. “I would like to thank each of them for their effort. This tremendous coordination and flexibility on their part to complete and the results will aid all flying missions at Offutt AFB for years to come and is something that each of them can be proud they were a part of.”