The radar whisperer
Patricia Brandon's mission is Raytheon's AESA radar
An hour's drive east of the Jackson International Airport, past barbecue joints and used car lots, Highway 80 widens to reveal a cluster of industrial buildings flanked by a tall white water tower.
The unassuming town of Forest, Mississippi, is host to this technologically advanced facility, which produces the most advanced combat radars available today.
Here, Patricia Brandon leads the team that builds those radars, known as AESA, or Active Electronically Scanned Array.
"Well, ma'am, I stepped right up and told them I wanted to learn and work on these new radars," Brandon said. "I built the first AESA antenna right here. It’s my baby."
AESA radars have seen combat in three theaters and were featured at this year's Paris Air Show. Brandon is known as the AESA Whisperer because she is behind every antenna the radars use.
"She...takes a lot of pride in that fact," said Stephan Sykes, a value stream leader for the AESA product line.
Brandon began the work 15 years ago, starting out as a dispatcher for Hughes Aircraft, later acquired by Raytheon. She was soon trained as a mechanical assembler, and when AESAs began to convert from mechanical to digital platforms, Raytheon went straight to Brandon to spearhead the job.
"They sent paper instructions and a toolbox," she recalled. "It had never been built before."
For Brandon, the work is personal. Her husband, Michael Brandon, is a Marine who served in Desert Storm. His war stories drive her work ethic.
"If there's a problem with that radar, it's my problem," she said. "And I won't let that happen. That tagline in our company logo–Customer Success Is Our Mission? Well, that's my mission. Period."
During the daily 7:40 a.m. team meeting, Brandon reminds her crew how important their work is. "You may see it as turning screws, but people's lives depend on it," she said. "More than anything, I want them to know that there are people who care."
Raytheon's AESA family of radars boasts numerous accolades and sits in the nose of several types of fighter jet, including F-15C/E, EA-18G and F/A-18E/F.
Today's modern AESA radars can perform multiple functions simultaneously. Instead of a plate or dish moving in a side to side motion, the radar beams are controlled electronically, scanning at near instantaneous refresh rates. Called electronic beam scanning, AESA's technology gives pilots the ability to target and track their counterparts with resounding clarity.
"For every pilot and crew out there flying dangerous missions, well, they know they can count on our radar—that it will work the first time, every time," Brandon said. "It's the least I can do to be sure they are safe and come home alive."