If It's in the Air, Maintenance Put it There: Avionics Systems Specialists

Sheppard graduated the Air Force’s first group of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Avionics Systems apprentice’s Nov. 7. They will soon be responsible for making sure the aircraft's electronic systems are functioning properly, (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)

The 365th Training Squadron trains Airman to be avionics technicians. The avionics career field makes sure the aircraft's electronic systems are functioning properly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)

Sheppard graduated the Air Force’s first group of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Avionics Systems apprentice’s Nov. 7. They will soon be responsible for making sure the aircraft's electronic systems are functioning properly, (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)

Sheppard graduated the Air Force’s first group of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Avionics Systems apprentice’s Nov. 7, 2013. Avionics technicians are responsible for making sure the aircraft's electronic systems are functioning properly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The U.S. Air Force has a very broad range of air and space missions, including combat operations, humanitarian aid, disaster relief and keeping an eye on enemies - old and new.

In order to accomplish these missions, the Air Force relies on its aircraft. The Air Force can call on the roaring guns of the A-10 and AC-130 attack aircraft, the mighty airlift capabilities of the C-130, C-5 and C-17 cargo aircraft, or the tons of weapons carried by our fighters and bombers. We have the midair refueling capabilities of our KC-10 and KC-135 tankers, the personnel rescue prowess of our HH-60 helicopters, our eye-in-the-sky U-2 spy planes, and the intelligence operations of our Rivet Joint, AWACS, and J-STARS aircraft. Although these aircraft all have different missions, they all share a reliance on avionics systems.

The term avionics is born out of the combination of two words: aviation and electronics. Each avionics discipline is unique in its mission to control, guide and protect aircraft. Avionics systems act as the brain of the aircraft. Just like a human cannot function without the brain, an aircraft cannot complete the mission successfully without avionics. Each avionics system controls an aircraft like different parts of the brain control different functions of the body. The maintainers being trained here at Sheppard can be considered the brain surgeons of some of the most advanced and sophisticated aircraft in the Air Force.

Avionics incorporates three different disciplines: Communications and Navigation, Flight Control Systems and Electronic Warfare.

Communication and Navigation systems are like our five senses in the air and include three important aspects of aircraft avionics: radar systems, radios and the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Radar provides aircraft with the sense of touch to feel out what lies ahead far beyond the capability of the eyes of our aircrew members.

Radios are the sense of hearing and give the ability to speak from the sky. They allow aircraft to communicate with air and ground stations by superimposing the pilot's voice onto high powered radio waves, much like attaching an important note to a carrier pigeon. Without radios, aircrews would have no way to perform routine tasks like requesting to land or takeoff, identifying who is friend or foe in the air, relaying intelligence to ground operators or, in emergency situations, requesting help.

Navigational systems like GPS act as an aircraft's sense of sight. After all, no aircraft is useful if it cannot be trusted to reach its destination. GPS allows aircrews to plot a course, find the target for munitions and see their progress through the air space.

Once the Communications and Navigation systems help determine where the aircraft needs to go, the next step is to make the aircraft move to reach its destination safely.

Imagine a running back in the NFL juking, spinning and faking out a defender to reach the end zone. We attribute this to great agility and it takes a fully functioning nervous system to make great athletes react like they do to situations.

For aircraft, this job falls on Flight Control Systems, which ensure the functionality of the airframe is upheld, meaning the airframe will be allowed to climb, dive or even do a barrel roll.

When an F-22 does a Cobra maneuver or a Thunderbird makes those amazing aerial maneuvers at an airshow, it is due to the incredible work done by the Flight Control Systems.

Within the Flight Control Systems scope, Guidance and Control system maintainers also maintain other aircraft systems such as fuel, oil and hydraulic indicating systems, along with other systems such as the flight director and autopilot.

The last avionics system found on aircraft is Electronic Warfare.

In the simplest of terms, Electronic Warfare is a protection system that safeguards from intrusion and harm.

Imagine a knight fighting in a battle; his armor, shield, protective instincts and his skill to fend off an attacker would be considered his Electronic Warfare system.

Whenever an aircraft returns from a mission safely, it is because the Electronic Warfare system protected that aircraft from any and all threats that it encountered.

Electronic Warfare is a fine example of the complexities associated with avionics. People may think they know what Electronic Warfare is because they saw "Maverick" from "Top Gun" punch flares to break a missile lock, but it is much more than brightly burning balls of heat.

Using jamming systems and expendable countermeasures to deceive and defeat radars and missiles of any design, these capabilities allow an aircraft to penetrate an enemy-controlled territory and complete its mission without the enemy ever knowing it was there.

Electronic Warfare can also deceive enemy tracking systems to make them think that there are more or fewer forces attacking. It's also about adapting to the ever present threat, denying the capabilities of our opponents by controlling our enemy's use of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is the culmination of intelligence gathering and the employment of time tested defensive techniques that keep our aircrew, cargo, and aircraft safe from enemy attack.

The complex systems that make up the avionics suite aboard an aircraft require regular and meticulous maintenance by Avionics Systems Specialists.

The Air Force trains these highly-skilled men and women here at Sheppard Air Force Base at the 365th Training Squadron.

We teach the basics of working on and around aircraft so Airmen can operate safely and effectively in a very taxing environment. Every imaginable maintenance subject, from changing failing parts such as radar antennas, down to troubleshooting the very wires, connectors and even pins inside the connectors that weave together all of the computers found in avionics systems, is taught here.

The minds of airmen who pass through the gates of Sheppard are molded into the best of what America has to offer; they are the future of our nation's defense. These young men and women go on to be technicians on multi-million dollar aircraft in the world's premier Air Force.

They carry the burden of making sure that cargo, weapons and flight crew make their destinations accurately and, most importantly, safely. As avionics technicians, they are expected to produce and perform every day as they are integral to mission success; there is no reset button for these young airmen if they make a mistake on the flight line.
Instructors teach the consequences of complacency very early on. Carelessness is not tolerated because it leads to casualties and loss of equipment such as the aircraft they just maintained. This is the harsh truth of their tasking and the responsibility they will carry with them throughout their careers.

Avionics is not something that can just be taught by anyone. Teaching takes an individual who understands the importance of their position and the implications that come along with it.

That instructor has to be fully versed in his or her specialty; the systems they teach are essential to the sustained protection and flight of that aircraft. Each aspect is vital to the accomplishment of a mission to include the safe return of the intrepid men and women who fly into harm's way.

The Air Force's aircraft are capable of a great many things because of its maintainers, avionics or not, the men and women who don the uniform.

Without avionics there is no flight, there is no bomb on target and there is no safe return of loved ones. Avionics isn't about the spotlight and glory; it is instead about the sense of pride when the maintainer sees the aircraft return after a long flight with the mission accomplished.

The dedicated training that airmen receive here in the 365 TRS is what propels them to be the best.

We, the instructors of the 365th TRS, have our "EYES ON TARGET".