The eyes in the skies

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Kayla Fitzgerald
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Executing successful live missile testing during a Weapon System Evaluation Program requires the participation of several different squadrons, two of which are the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron and the 81st Air Control Squadron.

Before fighter jets take off, the 82nd ATRS’s E-9A Widget and crew have an important job to do.

The E-9A, a twin turboprop, provides support for air-to-air weapons system evaluation, development and operational testing by ensuring that the waters in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico are clear of civilian boaters.

“The Widget is critical for sea surveillance and relied on by many programs to get a shoot container for live-fire missions,” said Garry Acree, 82nd ATRS E-9A evaluator pilot.

The mission is also a unique one. There are only two E-9As in the entire Department of Defense, and both belong to the 82nd ATRS.

“I like how small and tight knit the E-9A community is,” said Master Sgt. Douglas Yarnell, 82nd ATRS airborne mission systems operator. “We all pretty much know each other and what our strengths and weaknesses are, which makes it much easier to work with and communicate with each other while we are airborne and executing the mission. In an airborne scenario, crew resource management is crucial, and being able to trust one another is key to mission success.”

82nd ATRS radar operators relay the location of civilian boats back to the 81st ACS, also located at Tyndall Air Force Base, who provide radar control and monitor the airspace.

“We receive information from the E-9 Widget [on] boats that might interfere with the mission,” said Airman 1st Class Aleah Ortega, 81st ACS command and control battle management operator. “This helps us not only keep the boats in the gulf safe, but helps us build a shoot track to where we can shoot the missiles safely. With the Widget being out throughout the mission, we have constant surveillance in the gulf and can provide real-time update on the boat locations.”

The Airmen of the 81st ACS have crucial role in WSEPs as they are the only active duty Air Force squadron authorized to provide battle management command and control during live-fire air-to-air weapons evaluations.

“Since WSEP missions are very complex and involve a lot of aircraft, I manage the flow of aircraft from air traffic control into the mission airspace and make sure the airspace is safe to ensure the mission is successful,” said Ortega.

Although it’s a busy job, it’s also a rewarding one according to Ortega.

“What I like most about my job is that I am able to use my communication skills to pass real-time information to the crew to execute the mission,” said Ortega. “It’s good knowing I was part of making that happen.”