Air traffic controllers support air drop with new radios

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Air traffic controllers at the Blackstone Army Airfield put their new CM-300 radios to the test Sept. 4, 2014, during a planned parachute training exercise.

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Air traffic controllers at the Blackstone Army Airfield put their new CM-300 radios to the test Sept. 4, 2014, during a planned parachute training exercise.

“We’ve been able to replace some antiquated analog radio technology with updated digital radios,” said Jeffery Olson, air traffic controller.

According to General Dynamics, the CM-300 air traffic control radio is one of the first radio systems designed to support voice over internet protocol local standards and can support an unlimited number of radios from one location. Standardized radio reduces costs and increases flexibility with existing radio equipment.

The radio systems have the capability to reach VHF 25kHz AM and 8.33kHZ frequency channel spacing and wideband VHF 112-150 MHz. UHF reaches 225-399.975 MHz and 2-50 Watt RF output power.

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One highlight to the new radios is the extended range. Olson says, “We can now clearly talk with incoming planes almost 40 miles away.”

One highlight to the new radios is the extended range. Olson says, “We can now clearly talk with incoming planes almost 40 miles away.”

Radios are operated with one to two air traffic controllers with their eyes and ears trained on dials and microphone switches, ready to radio in to a pilot at a moment’s notice.

“It’s an amazing capability to be able speak to pilots and not have to worry about squelch noise interfering with our communication,” said Olson.

Having the extended range and digital clarity increase the airfield’s ability to manage multiple aircraft, Olson explained.

“Last year, we coordinated over 13,300 air movements. This year we’ve covered almost 12,000 movements in the past six months.”

So far, four complete radio systems have been installed.

“These are multifunctional systems, not just Ultra High Frequency or Very High Frequency,” Olson said. Most radios are either UHF or VHF and typically have to have a transmitter and a receiver each, explained Olson. Additional spare radios are scheduled to be installed later this year.

The radio systems are also equipped to communicate with all types of aircraft and can be powered by a generator in case of emergencies or power outages.

“Once we set the radio frequencies, we can pretty much talk to just about anyone,” said Olson.

Other army airfields have received some of the same radios. These radios could be used to support National Guard Civil Support missions by providing long-range radio communications with a variety of air assets travelling to support Virginia.

“It would be a great enabler to ensure that the host of resources coming in to provide support, that air traffic would be able to safely operate,” says Chief Warrant Officer 2 Susan S. Lias, Airfield Safety Officer.

“We’ve been able to replace some antiquated analog radio technology with updated digital radios,” said Jeffery Olson, air traffic controller.

“We’ve been able to replace some antiquated analog radio technology with updated digital radios,” said Jeffery Olson, air traffic controller.

All of the maintenance support is conducted locally by members of the BAAF and have been trained by the National Guard Bureau’s Air Traffic Control Services.

“It’s a really simple system,” Olson said. “If a component breaks, the entire system is easily replaced within minutes.”

The BAAF supports the Fort Lee-based Army Jumpmaster School, the Sandston-based Virginia Army National Guard aviation and the Civil Air Patrol, as well as other services and civilian aircraft.

The BAAF, also referred to as the Allen C. Perkinson Municipal Airport, serves Blackstone and Nottoway County and is jointly owned by the Town of Blackstone and the Virginia Army National Guard. The paved runway is 4,632 feet long and is about two miles from downtown Blackstone.

Air transportation to and from Fort Pickett began following the runway’s completion in 1942. At the time, the runway was designed to support the Douglas C-47 “Gooney Bird” but can currently support the C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft. The airfield recently has been used by miltiary units conducting unmaned aerial vehicle training.

For Lias, the new radios are just another tool that ensures the safety of pilots. “It’s gives our air traffic controllers so much more capability and further range which makes everything safer.”