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AWACS: A team effort

Tech. Sgt. Erich Ross runs through operational checklists during an E-3 Sentry mission Dec. 21 over Ecuador. Sergeant Ross is a flight engineer with the 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Amber Balken)

Tech. Sgt. Erich Ross runs through operational checklists during an E-3 Sentry mission Dec. 21 over Ecuador. Sergeant Ross is a flight engineer with the 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Amber Balken)

From left, Captains Matt Ketchie, Tim Higgins and Patrick McSherry work during an E-3 Sentry mission Dec. 21 over Ecuador. The three are deployed to Manta Forward Operating Location, Ecuador, from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Captain Ketchie and McSherry are air weapons officers, and Captain Higgins is a senior director. The Airmen coordinate with agencies to provide better imagery. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Amber Balken)

From left, Captains Matt Ketchie, Tim Higgins and Patrick McSherry work during an E-3 Sentry mission Dec. 21 over Ecuador. The three are deployed to Manta Forward Operating Location, Ecuador, from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Captain Ketchie and McSherry are air weapons officers, and Captain Higgins is a senior director. The Airmen coordinate with agencies to provide better imagery. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Amber Balken)

MANTA FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION, Ecuador (AFPN) -- Never has the word teamwork meant so much to mission accomplishment. From take-off to landing each crewmember of the 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron plays a role in mission accomplishment.

For the 964th EAACS, deployed here from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., the operation begins before anyone boards the jet. Maintainers work around the clock to ensure that every aspect of the aircraft is ready for launch. They launch and recover the aircraft and stand by for possible troubleshooting of problems occurring during flight, and repair systems that malfunction but are not repairable during flight.

"The mission would be impossible without the outstanding support of our maintainers," said Lt. Col. Kel Robinson, 964th EAACS commander.

The flight deck plays the next major role in mission accomplishment. Made up of the aircraft commander, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer, their main task is to keep the jet airborne and positioned to support the mission.

The aircraft commander, co-pilot and navigator, like in any other heavy aircraft, take care of takeoffs and landings, air refueling, and the navigational aspects of the flight.

Aircraft performance and efficiency lies in the hands of the flight engineer. The engineer is responsible for the physical aircraft, from the hydraulics to the electronics, ensuring the aircraft meets all capabilities.

"The engineer is really a systems expert," said Tech. Sgt. Erich Ross, a 964th EAACS flight engineer. Engineers "are accountable for the operational check both pre-flight and once we are airborne."

The mission crew commander controls most aspects of the mission once airborne. The MCC synchronizes every characteristic of the operation.

"The MCC is really like an orchestra conductor," said Lt. Col. Scott Bourgeois, a 964th EAACS mission commander. "Every position is different, and it is my job to make them all work together."

Once the flight engineer and MCC give the go ahead, it is up to the expertise of the technicians to get the equipment operating. The technicians include the communication system operator, communications technician, computer display and maintenance technician, and airborne radar technician. Their job is to make sure that all systems on the aircraft are functioning and have the information needed to complete the mission, and to monitor system performance throughout the flight.

Internal and external communications are necessary throughout the mission. Crewmembers are in constant contact with the Joint Inter Agency Task Force, as well as Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol aircraft that are working together on the mission.

Communications systems are monitored by the CSOs and CTs, who configure all radio requirements during the flight. Additionally, the CTs repair any radios or communication problems during flight.

"We basically act as telephone operators," said Airman 1st Class David Speight, a 964th EAACS communications technician. "We control the communications within the flight, maintain systems for communication with other services, and also have radio capabilities around the world."

The CDMT is responsible for loading the map and specific databases determined during mission planning into the computer system, in addition to fixing any computer or display console problems.

"The information that we program on the computers comes from the pre-flight planning," said Airman 1st Class Jordan Edgar, a computer display and maintenance technician. "Once we have that information it is our job to install it into the jet's hard drive and monitor the computers throughout the flight."

The surveillance portion of the mission comes from the radar and "identification friend or foe" systems mounted in the rotodome, located on top of the jet. These systems, monitored by the ART, produce radio frequencies, which are transmitted and received then sent to computers to be processed for display at different display consoles throughout the jet.

After all systems are operational, the accomplishment of the mission happens for the duration of the flight.

The surveillance section is responsible for detecting, identifying and tracking. This begins with the air surveillance technicians. It is the job of the technicians to initiate and maintain tracking, identify the object and analyze each situation. The senior surveillance technician is responsible for supervising the ASTs, as well as establishing and maintaining data links to share information with other organizations. The air surveillance officer is responsible for the section and the set-up of the radar and IFF parameters for the mission.

The weapons section, comprised of air weapons officers and the senior director, is in charge of controlling aircraft. After the tracks are detected it is the job of the weapons section to work with cooperating agencies to obtain imagery of the vessel, or to intercept and better identify the track.

The task of each of the crewmembers is ongoing during the flight.

"Every person on the aircraft is indispensable," said Maj. Gavin Marks, a 964th EAACS aircraft commander. "The mission would not be possible without each position. There isn't a person who doesn't bring a very important skill set to the mission."

The 964th EAACS is here on a four-month tour in support of counter-drug missions Caper Focus and Inca Gold.

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