Let's talk about the weather: 567th EMXS techs keep aircraft flying in all conditions

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Without an antenna, C-130 pilots wouldn't know which direction they're going or how to track things in the distance - like enemy missiles, thunderstorms or even hurricanes.

The C-130 would be just like any other flying contraption in the sky ... like a hot air balloon or even a hang glider.

But make no mistake, a C-130 is not a hot air ballon nor a hang glider.

The antenna, along with a receiver, transmitter system and navigation display are all parts of the color weather radar worked on by specialists in the 567th Electronics Maintenance Squadron.

A team of seven technicians troubleshoot and test the components which help comprise the APN-241 color weather radar on C-130H and C-130J aircraft as well as the Air Force's WC-130J Hurricane Hunters.

Since 2009, a partnership between the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex and Northrop Grumman Corp, - which supplies software, tech data and parts - ensures those aircraft continue to fly wherever and whenever needed.

Kelcey Lattimore, a 567th EMXS electronics technician, works beside two Thermotron environmental chambers that simulate temperatures an aircraft normally encounters from -40 degrees Celsius to 55 degrees Celsius. 

"We are trying to simulate the varying temperatures pilots encounter in flight ... to function within those parameters, no matter how hot or cold it is," he said. 

The chamber stays at that temperature for nearly three hours, then transitions to 55 degrees Celsius for another hour and 40 minutes.

Lattimore sees everything a pilot would see on monitors at his station. If all works as it should, the radar should come on no matter where that pilot is flying.

"A pilot cannot see if the antenna doesn't function properly," he said. "I look at it as thinking that my family could be flying on that plane."

A full test takes six hours. Once antennas pass the acceptance test, they're routed to a nearby indoor radar range for further testing.

Several workstations nearby are occupied by technicians who troubleshoot components that are used inside the antenna's receiver/transmitter environmental chambers.

The receiver/transmitter has more than two dozen items alone, to include the radar environmental control adapter, that are tested, and if needed, repaired.

Another station cleans and repairs the antenna itself. Recently an antenna array was replaced after it was struck by lightning - evident by burn marks located on the aluminum surface.

During those times when diagnosing an issue is more challenging, technicians can listen for problems, such as grinding or other loud noises for potential issues.

Technicians also test and repair the radar's navigational display, periodically replacing cathode ray tubes. Another station performs fault analyses on various components used on the radar.

About 50 items per month, or about 600 items per year, are produced with a current turnaround time of one week.

Despite having a smaller team of technicians than when the program first started six years ago, repair times have been reduced more than 66 percent, according to James Bush, 567th EMXS production supervisor.

Several years ago the team saw how mission critical their work is when they received a note from a flight engineer downrange who used an APN 241 radar that had been tested here. The result was a successful landing when the air crew couldn't get a visual.

"It's a great testament, especially when you realize what we do directly affects people's lives," he said.