Deployed Airfield Operations Airmen support base exercise

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jennifer Zima, Public Affairs Journeyman
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

ROYAL AIR FORCE FAIRFORD, England – Airfield Operations Airmen with the 420th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron worked alongside the 352nd Special Operations Wing during an Agile Combat Employment exercise Jan. 8-12, 2022, here. 

RAF Fairford provides an opportunity for visiting forces to train and utilize ACE concepts to ensure forces in Europe are ready to protect and defend partners, allies and U.S. interests at a moment’s notice, and generate lethal combat power should deterrence fail.

In the past, the 420th has provided support and or hosted visiting forces from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, B-52 bombers from Barksdale AFB, U-2 Lockheed from Beale AFB, NATO exercises, the RAF Red Arrows and even President Joe Biden.

In the shadows of each mission, Airmen work to keep the base safe and operating, no matter the conditions or the situation.

“We would like to showcase how the Airmen in the Airfield Operations Flight support the airfield and make exercises possible at RAF Fairford,” said Master Sgt. Lan Nguyen, 420th EABS tower chief controller. “Within our flight, we have air traffic control (ATC) at the tower, airfield management, weather and radar airfield weather systems (RAWS).”

ATC Airmen work with local national ATC towers to coordinate flights and ensure safe airfield traffic. 

“I can answer a phone, have an aircraft call from the sky, and someone on the ground taxiing all at the same time; it’s being able to balance that priority list,” said Staff Sgt. Troy Ondrey, 420th EABS air traffic controller. “These exercises can drop at a [moment's notice] for them, so we need to be ready and available and ensure that we can get them out the most expeditious way possible.

“Here in the U.K. things are different from how we’re taught in America. Being able to balance what you deem safe with your credentials as an FA-certified controller versus what they deem safe could very much differ. Knowing all the rules for everything and making your best judgment call keeps everyone safe.”

As ATC directs aircraft traffic, the airfield management team takes care of the airfield logistics, from construction to parking.

“We manage all construction projects, we send notices to flight crew or pilots incoming to our base so they can see what is going on, we check the runway to make sure the conditions are safe, we monitor the bird watch, and we do all the flight planning and coordinating of aircraft coming in,” said Staff Sgt. Kaitlin Flick, 420th EABS airfield management operations supervisor. “It’s been pretty busy, but it’s kept us on our toes. There have been a lot of aircraft to coordinate and make sure they have all the information they need to fly.”

Tech Sgt. Joseph Garza, 420th EABS noncommissioned officer in charge of weather flight, and Senior Airman Nadir White, 420th EABS forecaster, are part of a three-person weather team that work together with ATC and airfield management to enable air operations at Fairford.

“Our main thing is airfield forecasting for our aviation mission,” said Garza. “Every eight hours we put a new forecast in with winds, cloud ceilings, pressure, and visibility.”

Although England’s weather stays fairly mild, Airmen working in the weather unit have the responsibility of weather forecast for the local area and all operations in the 422nd Air Base Group. They forecast any hazardous weather and generate advisories and warnings to support flying missions. Depending on the type and size of the aircraft, there are different limitations to the weather conditions.

White begins by assessing the weather situation on his drive to work. 

“What I normally do is get situational awareness of what is happening,” said White. “I compare that with satellite data and radar. This is what I saw, this is what I can see from higher up. Also taking into account what the other bases or airfields are reporting on their current observations and what they think will happen. I compare, make an analysis and mission-tailor my product to fit our specific needs. 

If the skies are dark or visibility is low, aircraft pilots become even more reliant on radar equipment to safely land. The equipment helps a pilot determine the correct centerline, elevation and distance when approaching the runway. RAWS Airmen maintain and troubleshoot this equipment.

“An ILS is an instrument landing system,” said Senior Airman Alex Prestel, 420th EABS RAWS technician. “It has antennas and it shoots radio signals out. It speaks to the plane and helps figure out if they have to go left, right, up, or down, so they can land on the airfield. Without the instruments, they won’t be able to make a safe landing, especially in inclement weather.”

Through a combined effort, Airfield Operations Airmen at Fairford enable critical operations, which contribute to regional objectives and help enhance synergy between mission partners.