Powering the flightline

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tammie Ramsouer
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
People use electricity every day, whether by turning on a light switch or vacuuming the carpet and in the Air Force, some of the energy used every day powers a multimillion dollar flightline and ensuring the mission is accomplished.

The 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron’s airfield lighting electricians are hard at work each night to keep the lights lit for the many cargo, fighter and other aircraft coming in and out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's airfield in Alaska.

"Our main active runway of the two on (base) is 10,000 feet in length and 200 feet wide," said Lance Davis, a 773rd CES airfield lighting electrician. "The power we use for the runways comes from our electrical substations. Our substations power (more than) 1,500 light fixtures on (the) runways."

The electricians monitor and keep the electricity that powers these lights under control to ensure the right amount of voltage is sent to where it needs to go.

"Commercial power is extremely vital to the mission of the Air Force," said Jefferson Craven, a 773rd CES airfield fighting electrician supervisor.

As airfield lighting electricians, one of their roles is to maintain and upgrade the runway lighting.

"Airfield lighting plays a vital role in launching and recovering aircraft," Craven said. "Without electricity, I can't think of one job that wouldn't be affected."

Currently, the flightline lighting is going through an upgrade from fluorescent lighting to LED lighting and has been in the process of upgrades for 10 years, Craven said.

The lighting fixtures currently scheduled to be replaced by LED's are consuming 96 watts of power while in use. More than half of the lights have been replaced with the new LED lights, which only consume eight watts of power.

"The longevity of this new technology also reduces the amount of maintenance time servicing each fixture," Craven said.

The airfield lighting vault, which contains high-voltage cables and backup lighting fixtures, has also gone through some upgrades as well.

To provide a safer work environment, the exposed 4,160 high voltage wiring has been replaced with an enclosed regulator system, so when the electricians walk inside the vault the high-voltage cables are not exposed.

Craven said their training prepares the crew members for both all-enclosed vaults and vaults where the high-voltage cables are exposed.

To begin their job as an airfield lighting electrician, the newest crew members must go through many evaluations and on-the-job training (OJT).

"All employees must accomplish our flightline (driver) training course, which consists of computer based training and must pass with an 80 percent minimum, 40 hours of driving on the flightline with a qualified trainer, day and nighttime orientation and a medical eye exam to ensure no one is challenged with shade blindness," Craven said. "Once these tasks are accomplished, there is a two-part written exam administered from base operations."

Though 80 percent is required for subsequent exams, a 100 percent is required for the first exam due to the importance of the tested knowledge. Passing the exam ensures individuals know their location on a map of the flightline and the hazards associated with that location while keeping communications with the control tower.

"If successful with the map test, you're given the second exam," Craven said. "It is over the information associated with driving a vehicle on the flightline and must be passed with an 80 percent minimum."

For the Airmen, their training continues with completing their career development courses and OJT that includes an interview to better understand what training the Airmen need before they are authorized to work on the lighting systems. The process takes an average of four to six months.

"Training never stops because technology never stops, and as long as we have a need to go to the sky, we will have a need for lighting systems to launch and recover aircraft," Craven said.

Craven said lighting electricians develop a healthy regard for electricity through their training.

"Electricity is a dangerous career field, and you rarely get a second chance if you encounter its power. That is why we conduct so much training," Craven said. "Don't fear electricity, but give it all the respect it is due."