JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
It is rush hour in some exotic metropolis and you are a business traveler who foolishly rented a car, attempting to find your big meeting. You are driving through heavy traffic in an unfamiliar city as rain pours faster than your wipers can keep up.
You can barely see the road ahead of you, much less any street signs to help find your way. Luckily, you have your trusty smartphone equipped with a GPS application, enabling you to navigate safely, efficiently and just in time to seal the biggest deal of your career.
In times of inclement weather in San Antonio, pilots from the 12th Flying Training Wing find themselves in similar predicaments. Thick clouds and heavy precipitation can render pilots virtually blind, creating an extremely stressful situation especially as they approach to land at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
Much how we rely on our smartphones for safe navigation, the 12th FTW trusts in technology known as the Instrument Landing System, or ILS, to safely land when the weather refuses to cooperate.
“Anybody can fly when you can see where you are going,” said Lee Sims, 12th Operations Support Squadron airfield operations manager. “Those instrument systems allow you to fly when you can’t see where you’re going, whether that be at night or in bad weather.”
The ILS consists of a Localizer, which allows aircraft to line up with the center of the runway, and a Glideslope, enabling a safe descent to the runway while avoiding any dangerous obstacles on approach.
These components project invisible, electronic signals out from the end of the runway for approaching aircraft to capture and follow to a safe landing.
“Those instrument landing systems are vital for us to be able to operate safely and provide the local community with predictability regarding our flight operations,” Sims said.
However in the last decade, the municipalities of Universal City, Converse, Schertz and Cibolo have significantly encroached on JBSA-Randolph. Erecting structures near an active airport, military or civilian, presents unique challenges to both the airfield and community members.
Although a new structure may not physically obstruct the runway approach, it can interfere with the electronic signals of the ILS, creating a potentially hazardous situation. Aircraft flying blind in bad weather can be misguided by ground interference and land in areas other than safely down the center of their selected runway.
“It is difficult to explain to the public why we don’t want them to build in certain areas, because their structure may block one of the invisible beams allowing our aircraft to navigate,” said Sims.
The airfield managers at JBSA-Randolph only have jurisdiction over land owned by the U.S. Air Force. However, they work to proactively educate the community on how proposed construction affects base operations.
“We have to think about these issues to protect the base, the navigational aids and the mission that we have here,” Sims said. “It’s my job to educate the public on whether their project is in the best interest of the 12th FTW’s mission here on base.”
By continuing to work together, the 12th FTW and community members can solidify their partnership, ensuring safety and mission effectiveness for years to come.
“We understand that we have to be a good neighbor to the surrounding communities,” Sims said. “We can’t be so restrictive that we don’t allow people to live around us, but we have to ensure the safety of everyone, both on the ground and in the air.”
The next time you look out your window and see dark and stormy weather, rest easy knowing the aviators of the 12th FTW are being guided safely back to Earth by a vital system supported by both the 12th OSS and their local community partners.