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Air Patrol updates voice.


Otis Air National Guard Base, a strategic military facility on Cape Cod--Cataument, to be exact--is the home of the 102nd Fighter-Interceptor Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

It's one of 12 Air National Guard units throughout the country whose air defense mission is to provide and support combat-ready aircraft and air crews for surveillance and control of U.S. airspace. They are to intercept, identify, and if necessary destroy enemy airborne objects.

That mission requires the best, most modern equipment both in the air and on the ground.

The 102nd is equipped with 18 F-15 Eagle all-weather fighter aircraft on Cape Cod and two additional F-15s stationed at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine. The 102nd, along with the 158th Fighter-Interceptor Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard, is responsible for helping preserve the integrity of all U.S. air space between the Canadian border and Atlantic City.

The four F-15s, maintained on 24-hour-a-day alert status in hangars at the ends of runways, are ready to take off on a second's notice.

Another two of the unit's F-15s may be undergoing scheduled major overhauls, while the remaining planes are continually maintained in flight-ready status for use in the event of a major attack on the U.S. East Coast.

Antiquated Voice

AT&T completed a major upgrade of the main phone system at the base by installing a Dimension 2000 touchtone system in 1984. But the two key operational areas of this vital link in the nation's defense network--its flight operations control center and its aircraft maintenance control center--were left with antiquated rotary dial phones and equally antiquated Bell System electromechanical call directors as their only means of telephone voice communication.

"The phone systems in our flight operations control and maintenance control centers are heavily dependent upon the use of dedicated ringdown lines because of their need to get into immediate touch with various locations on the base during alerts and other emergencies," explains Second Lieutenant Wayne Theroux, the 102nd's information support manager. He is responsible for all communications and computer operations.

"But our old rotary-dial call directors in both of these areas were literally beginning to fall apart, and AT&T was having an increasingly difficult time maintaining them.

"In addition, those old systems were hardwired, which meant that we had to have an AT&T technician come out to rewrite them every time we wanted to make a change in a line. That was putting a serious strain on our ability to adapt rapidly to changing conditions," Theroux says.

The solution chosen by Theroux, with the help of AT&T, was the VK 6000 electronic key telecommunications system manufactured by V Band Corp., Elmsford, N.Y.

Six VK 6000 60-button turrets, or consoles, along with their associated backroom control systems, were installed in the 102nd's flight operations control area in October 1988, and four similar electronic key systems were installed in the base's F-15 maintenance control center in January 1989.

Tipping the scale in V Band's favor was the successful implementation of these systems by the Coast Guard in the Boston area.

The 102nd base's main flight operations control center is equipped with four 60-button VK 6000 consoles, or turrets. Two are in a lower area of the center used primarily by senior non-commissioned enlisted controllers who man the center on a day-to-day basis.

The other two consoles are located in a platform area behind and above the controller area. These consoles are normally unused, except in emergency situations or during alerts and exercises, when they are manned by an officer and the controller in charge of the flight operations center.

Always Manned

The center is staffed around the clock, seven days a week. During normal operations two enlisted controllers man the center during the day, and one at night.

Normal operations include F-15 training flights, flights to and from Loring Air Force Base, checkout flights after major overhauls or other maintenance, and other flight operations in support of the 102nd's basic mission.

During alerts, emergencies or exercises, as many as four noncommissioned controllers and two officer controllers may be utilizing the center's communications systems. Exercises are held once a month on average, and can last from 48 to 72 hours.

A separate operations control center outside of the 102nd's F-15 flight control center has also been equipped with two V Band turrets.

This center has nothing to do with F-15 operations. It is responsible primarily for controlling and monitoring other air traffic that uses the base's landing strips and other facilities on a continual basis.

In the main F-15 flight operations center each of the four VK 6000 consoles has 10 dedicated ringdown lines. They are connected directly and solely to essential operational locations like the control tower, battle staff area, base operations staff headquarters, radar approach control center, and facilities that house the two fully fueled, armed standby F-15s and their crews.

Each of the flight operations consoles also has more than 30 speed dial buttons, programmed through each console's built-in microprocessor to automatically dial the phone numbers of varius on- and off-base locations frequently contacted both during normal and emergency operations.

The numbers are automatically dialed each time a controller presses the key on the console assigned to that number. Those autodial calls go out over any one of six dial-up lines connected to each turret.

Other console buttons connect to four of the base's Dimension 2000 switchboard extensions for calling on- and off-base locations not frequently contacted, and off-base personnel.

Three loudspeakers are on each turret. Each is controlled by a separate sliding volume control. The loudspeakers are on round-the-clock to monitor communications between aircraft in the air and on the ground. They also monitor the base's control tower, plane-to-plane, and ground-to-plane communications.

The base's internal loudspeakers system also operates through the V Band turrets. This makes possible base-wide announcements by controllers during alerts or other situations requiring widespread broadcasting.

The 102nd's flight controllers use telephone handsets and touchtone keypads, also built into the turrets, for telecommunications during normal operations.

But during emergencies, alerts or exercises, headsets can also be plugged into each turret so that two controllers can utilize each turret's various communications systems at the same time.

Not Scratchy Anymore

As observed by Master Sergeant Debbie Wash, NCO in charge of the 102nd Fighter-Intercepter Wing's flight operations control center, the difference between the center's old call directors and the new VK 6000 electronic key systems is dramatic.

"Our old telecommunications system was noisy and scratchy," she says. "We frequently had to shout into our phones to be sure we were being heard. We don't have to do that any more. In addition, the big plastic buttons controlling our dedicated ringdown lines on the old system frequently got stuck during emergencies, when those lines were needed the most.

"At times the whole console became inoperable until emergency repair technicians arrived. However, a quick fix was not always possible. The technicians did their best, but because of the age of the equipment and shortage of spare parts we often had extended downtime on the dedicated circuits due to stuck buttons."

"Because two of our new consoles have three built-in speakers with easy-to-use sliding volume controls, we can now monitor up to six radio transmissions at the same time. We can bring up the volume on the most important transmissions at will," she says.

"With our old system we had six large speakers mounted on a panel in front of our controler positions. They not only took up a lot of space, but their volumes were extremely difficult to control. So, we sometimes had a hard time hearing one transmission over another one."

The speakers on the VK 6000 consoles in the upper command area of the flight operations control room, on the other hand, are not used to monitor radio transmissions. They are set up so they can be used for conference calls to command staff during emergencies and exercises.

"We never had that capability before," Walsh notes. "We never could use our control turrets to make public address announcements before. We had to use a separate public address system that was difficult to maintain. Now, we just press one button and we can make announcements without getting out of our chairs."

Touchtone dial is also much appreciated by the controllers.

"During emergencies and exercises we sometimes have to have a total recall of off-base personnel to their stations. This involves making numerous phone calls to the homes of personnel living off base, and to those that hold off-base part-time jobs. Touchtone saves us an enormous amount of time," she says.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Otis Air National Guard Base
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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