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Travis tests radar technology

The Digital Airport Surveillance Radar tower, in the foreground, stands to the left of the Light-Wave Radar System March 6 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The LWRS is designed to distinguish wind turbines from aircraft and pinpoint the difference on the Travis radar screen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Amber Carter)

The Digital Airport Surveillance Radar tower, in the foreground, stands to the left of the Light-Wave Radar System March 6 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The LWRS is designed to distinguish wind turbines from aircraft and pinpoint the difference on the Travis radar screen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Amber Carter)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Leaders from the 60th Air Mobility Wing, 60th Operations Group and 60th Operation Support Squadron met with members of the Federal Aviation Administration and C-Speed, a product development and engineering services company, March 6 at Travis Air Force Base, California, to discuss the progress of the new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement.

The new CRADA was established in 2014 and began on January 15, 2015, to test a gap-filler, Light-Wave Radar System, a system that was previously tested in the United Kingdom. This system is designed to operate at a different frequency range than the current Digital Airport Surveillance Radar with a goal of being able to distinguish wind turbines from aircraft using a system that can fill in the gaps to pinpoint the difference.

"This new radar could be a game changer," said Gary Gottschall, 60th Operations Group deputy commander. "We are in one of the richest wind areas in the United States and our goal is to support green energy while retaining our mission requirements and making sure Travis is viable in the future."

Looking on the radar screen at the Travis Radar Approach Control flight, a wind farm can look like a barrage of aircraft. Other military bases have wind turbines in the vicinity of the airfield showing up on their radars, however, Travis has a unique situation.

"We are the only base that has turbines less than five nautical miles from the airfield," Gottschall said. "The Wind Resource Area has more than 600 turbines that are more than 400 feet tall with blade tips that travel at more than 200 miles per hour and show up on radar as possible aircraft."

Travis is the largest Air Mobility Command base, which contributes to RAPCON experiencing heavy traffic volume consisting of military, as well as, private and commercial aircraft.

"In 2014, Travis monitored and assisted 138,000 operations," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Murdock, 60th Operation Support Squadron superintendent. "Most people don't know that 75 percent of the traffic is civil air traffic."

Many of these civil aircraft are either not transponder equipped or choose not to turn on their transponders and therefore show up on the RAPCON scope in the same way a wind turbine appears, said Gottschall.

Finding alternate sources of energy such as solar and wind power is important to help avoid a variety of environmental impacts. California started leading the way in wind power during the 1980s, when it was home to 90 percent of the world's installed wind energy capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The wind resource area in northern California grew to more than 800 turbines in the mid-2000s, causing flight safety concerns and creating friction between Travis and the WRA developers. This lead to the creation of the 2009 CRADA, which created radar software enhancements to help mitigate the impact of the wind turbines on the Travis radar system.

"On a windy day where we can get up to 40 knots of wind, the screen lights up," Murdock said. "Through constant testing and cooperative research and development groups, we've come up with different ways to take those undesired targets out, but it's not an exact science yet."

With the installation of the Assault Landing Zone in 2013, Travis' pilots can be tactically trained for low- and high-altitude flying locally. An important aspect to maintaining a strong relationship with the WRA developers is to make them aware of Travis' mission to train pilots to fly at altitudes as low as 500 feet to simulate a combat zone.

Balancing a relationship with the community and maintaining mission readiness are important goals for every military installation.

"We completely support what these technologies can offer Travis and we just want to ensure a safe air traffic operating environment while accommodating as many of the civil projects as possible." Murdock said.

Testing of the LWRS will run for approximately 90 days. The ultimate goals are to eliminate wind turbine radar interference, increase the probability of detection, eliminate anomalies and integrate effectively into other radar systems. Travis is the first AMC installation to test such technologies and is paving the way for future radar improvements across the Air Force and the Department of Defense.

"I'm very excited we are at this point, using Travis as a test bed for trying new ideas and it is a really big step for bringing a technology that's been used overseas to address this problem," said Dr. Donald Erbschloe, Air Mobility Command chief scientist. "Hats off to Travis for reaching out and leading the way."

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