By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 20, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- In a profession where seconds matter, Fort Rucker is staying ahead of the game as it integrates a new air traffic surveillance system to the Army's busiest airfield.
Cairns Army Airfield now operates a new, state-of-the-art surveillance system, Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, which is a satellite-based, digital surveillance system that uses GPS technology to determine an aircraft's location, airspeed and other data, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"To simplify it, this is our means of tracking targets utilizing satellite technology," said Rick Rehm, Cairns Army Radar Approach Control facility chief. "In the past, our only way of painting aircraft is actually showing them displayed on a radar scope and then secondary radar, which works off the transponder in the aircraft."
"Digital surveillance involves utilizing a combination of radars and ground sensors to enhance the detection capabilities of the primary radar," added Christopher Angle, Cairns ARAC operations supervisor.
Rehm, who's been a part of the ARAC for 21 years, said the new capability increases safety and allows for better coverage when compared to conventional ground-based radar, depending on the geographical location.
"With radar, the further away you are or the lower you are, the less chance we'll be able to track you utilizing radar, but with the satellite, we'll be able to take a target," he said. "This also allows us to use less separation between aircraft."
ADS-B offers Army Aviation with the means to discover new procedures and improve the utility of airspace surrounding Fort Rucker, added Jack Holmes, Fort Rucker air traffic and airspace officer.
"Aviators will use (this system) as a decision support tool to improve the safety of navigation and potentially as a planning tool in regards to flight training areas. It allows them to achieve enhanced situational awareness of other aircraft operating within training areas, and ATC facilities will gain immediate confirmation of pilot positioning reports."
In addition to the ADS-B system, FUSION was added, which fuses all products that a facility has available -- radar and satellite data -- and puts them onto one display, said Rehm.
"We have access to four radar feeds here at Cairns, and FUSION mode allows us to work all four radar feeds simultaneously," he said. "Before, we were only able to work them one at a time, but now we get them all together on one screen, which is significant because it gives us more visibility."
With the introduction of FUSION mode, the refresh rate on the radar screens have been significantly reduced, said Angle.
"Our refresh rates have gone from 4.7-second updates down to just one-second updates," he said. "There were previously some small blind spots, but now we can move traffic faster, safer and more efficiently."
Adding this capability to Cairns puts the airfield ahead of the game, according to Rehm, because by 2020, the FAA is mandating that facilities operating in certain types of airspace must have ADS-B capability.
"Right now, what we've done is not required, but it has great benefit because later down the road it's going to be (required)," said the ARAC facility chief.
When the new system begins to roll out through the Army, the training standard will have been set at the home of Army Aviation, added Rehm.
"Because this is the first and only Army air traffic control facility to use the ADS-B capability right now, our training program has set the standard for Air Traffic Services Command."
Radar controllers had to train with simulators and attend one-on-one classes to become proficient with the new equipment, said Angle.
"The end game was to make sure that all of the controllers knew their regulations and that they were comfortable and proficient in using the equipment," he said. "This makes our job easier and has huge benefits to the Aviation community."