US Air Force fixes only weather radar system in Guam

Posted on Nov 13 2020


Tech. Sgt. Michael Britt, assigned to the 36th Operation Support Squadron Radar, Airfield, & Weather Systems, works on removing the waveguide from the Next-Generation Radar in Yigo, Guam. (U.S. AIR FORCE/STAFF SGT. MATTHEW HAWKINS)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam—The 36th Operation Support Squadron’s Radar, Airfield & Weather System technicians recently repaired the klystron, a power source for the antenna amplifier, on the Next-Generation Radar system in Guam.

The NEXRAD, used by the U.S. National Weather Service, is the sole weather radar for Guam and the CNMI, making it vital to the safety and wellbeing of the islands’ people.

“We normally make small repairs like this,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Hawkins, NCO in charge of 36th OSS RAWS. “We’ve replaced transmitters, fixed motors that rotate the radar, and amplifiers over the last couple of months. It’s the bigger jobs we aren’t normally asked to cover.”

One of these bigger jobs was the repair and maintenance of the NEXRAD waveguide, a 100-foot tube, which holds pressurized air to enable the electrical signal to transfer from the station below to the radar above. The tube is delicate and normally requires climbing gear to work on. Technicians from the NWS Radar Operations Center, based in the United States, would normally travel to Guam to make such repairs.

“The waveguide had been having trouble for nearly two years,” said James Colson, airspace manager assigned to the 36th Operations Group. “Our guys would do patch jobs while we tried to get ROC out here, but between exercises, and then COVID, they just couldn’t make it out.”

On March 25, the waveguide was leaking pressure to a degree where it needed to be replaced. Without a working waveguide, the radar was non-functioning. It was then that Lt. Col. Brian Neal, 36th OSS commander, decided his team would tackle the challenge.

This job was outside of the normal knowledge base for RAWS, and they worked remotely with the ROC to troubleshoot the issue. Eight airmen worked in two-man teams, night and day, to get the critical weather system operational, which brought about unforeseeable issues for the teams to overcome.

“One setback we ran into was the climbing gear,” said Hawkins. “The climbing mounts don’t all adhere to Air Force safety guidance. That’s why we contacted CE [civil engineering] to use one of their cranes.”

Members of the 36th Operation Support Squadron Radar, Airfield, & Weather Systems use a crane to repair the Next-Generation Radar in Yigo, Guam. The waveguide is a 100-foot tube of pressurized air, which allows signals to pass between the station below and the radar above. (U.S. AIR FORCE/STAFF SGT. MATTHEW HAWKINS)

With the assistance of the crane, the RAWS technicians were able to repair the waveguide in less than 72 hours and were awarded decorations for their effort.

“Having a working radar is a big deal,” said Capt. Matthew Wetmore, 36th OSS weather flight commander. “Without it, we rely on satellites, but satellites don’t give us three important data points: precipitation, lightning, and wind speed.”

All three factors are critical to how the Air Force operates on the flightline. Heavy rain lowers visibility, wind speeds affect take-offs and landings, and lightning puts aircraft and personnel in danger. Satellite imagery can help forecast these conditions, but, with the radar, those predictions become more accurate.

“It’s the difference between saying it might rain within the hour or 30 minutes, or it’ll rain in this five-minute window,” said Wetmore.

For eight months, the 36th OSS RAWS maintained the radar system much to the appreciation of the local community, military missions, and island chain. This radar is even more important to an island with no surface stations to relay what the weather is like over the Pacific Ocean. Without the NEXRAD, the island people wouldn’t know what the weather was until it was happening. (36th Wing Public Affairs)

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