Last Updated: 05/17/2013*
At this very minute, there’s a plane somewhere roaring down a runway for takeoff. Dozens more are lining up for landing -- a delicate up-and-down choreography that relies on radars, radios and control towers.
But what about places where none of that exists? A remote battlefield or a hurricane-damaged island? That’s where Raytheon’s “air traffic control in a box,” the Deployable Radar Approach Control, promises to bring order to the skies.
This week the U.S. Air Force awarded Raytheon a contract to build as many as 19 of the systems, each consisting of a transportable radar antenna and three trailer-size containers housing communications gear and controller workstations.
The systems are completely self-sufficient and can be up and running in six hours.
“We can safely bring in a United Nations flight carrying life-saving supplies anywhere in the world,” said deployable ATC systems manager Peter Willett.
The contract calls for one development unit and options for up to 18 more. Ten would go to the Air National Guard, seven to the active-duty Air Force Space Command and one to each of the Air Force’s two ATC schools.
While older deployable systems rely on analog technology, D-RAPCON processes radar signals digitally.
Its radar reaches out 60 miles compared to the current 30 miles provided by the existing system used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. It also accommodates more controllers.
The most striking feature is a primary and secondary surveillance radar antenna that folds down for easy transport. When fully extended, it stands a commanding 30 feet in the air.
The three trailer-sized shelters can be fastened to flatbed trucks or loaded onto C-130 cargo planes.
One trailer holds the power and cooling systems; another has transmitters, receivers and signal processing equipment; while the third houses six controller workstations. Each workstation has the same look and feel as the equipment used at major airports.
"You get all the functionality in a transportable footprint,” Raytheon’s Rachel Lamont said.
Raytheon is already the world’s premier builder of air traffic management systems. Its flight-control system, known as the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, or STARS, is used at more than 150 U.S. sites.
Raytheon recently won a contract to upgrade 11 of the country’s largest Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities, or TRACONs, including Dallas, Atlanta, Northern and Southern California, Washington and New York.
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