New Radar Tower Under Construction at Selfridge

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
A new $17 million digital airport surveillance radar will soon be providing a clearer picture to air traffic controllers at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

The DAS-R system is now under construction at the base and will replace an older analog radar system that had been in use for several decades.

"The new system will provide coverage of a larger area and will allow controllers at other locations to get a feed from our radar to provide an overall more redundant and clearer picture of what's happening in the sky," said Mark Winsor, air traffic manager at the base.

The radar system is the second major construction project to be highlighted by Selfridge leaders in as many months. In September, the 127th Wing at Selfridge announced plans had been greenlighted for a new $30 million aviation fuel storage and delivery system. Design work on that project is slated to begin in 2013, with it expected to be operational by 2018.
"Our air traffic controllers and airfield management personnel are widely recognized to be among the best in the business," said Col. Douglas Champagne, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot and commander of the 127th Operations Group at the base. "They have been heralded as the Airfield Complex of the Year two years running by the Air National Guard and I have challenged them to bring the trophy home for the third year straight, something never accomplished in the history of Air Traffic Control and Airfield Management. The new DAS-R system will allow our controllers to take full advantage of the latest technology as they continue to provide regional air traffic services to both military traffic at Selfridge, and also to civilian and commercial traffic that passes through southeastern Michigan."

The initial construction of the 94-foot-tall new tower to hold the radar system is expected to be completed by about the first of the year, 2013. The system will become fully operation in the fall of 2013. The new tower is 40 feet taller than the existing radar tower on the base. Once the new DAS-R radar becomes operational, the existing tower will be utilized for other communication equipment, a move which will improve the control tower's ability to communicate with aircraft in the area.

Roger Lafollette from the David E. Ross Company is overseeing the construction of the new tower on the base. This is Lafollette's 18th such tower. He has been to Air Force bases around the country over the past 10 years, working on installing DAS-R systems.

"It has been interesting to watch how some of the equipment has evolved," Lafollette said. "The Air Force controllers I've talked to have been very satisfied with the upgrade in their systems once the new tower comes on line."

Lafollette said the new DAS-R tower is built with redundancy and stability in mind. It is solidified by 14 piers that are drilled down into five feet of a level of earth known as "glacial till" a hard rock formation about 57 feet below the surface of the ground. The new tower also features generator back-up systems to allow it to continue to operate in the event of a power outage.

Air traffic control operations at Selfridge are operated by federal civilian employees, many of whom first learned their trade while in the military. Winsor has worked at Selfridge as a civilian controller for about 17 years and was stationed at Selfridge as an active-duty Air Force member in the early 1980s, when uniformed personnel were running the tower. Today, in addition to regular control operations, the tower at Selfridge serves as a school house for junior enlisted personnel who are being trained to be military air traffic controllers. The air traffic control system at Selfridge consists of two elements, the tower, where controllers handle about 36,000 operations a year, and the radar approach control (RAPCON) center, which handles about 28,000 operations a year. Controllers at the facility are trained to operate in both sections. About 90 percent of the operations controlled by the tower involve operations on the military air field, but fewer than 20 percent of the RAPCON operations involve the field - the Selfridge controllers also guide civilian aircraft operating at a number of small air fields around the Detroit region.

Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marked its 95th year of continuous military air operations in 2012.