Auxiliary airfield fulfills vital Vance flying role

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Lori Wise
  • Public Affairs
They gassed up the truck, headed out the gate and followed the highway northwest out of Enid, looking forward to their trek to a town named 'Jet' and their 'home away from home' on the Oklahoma plains.
Their target destination; Kegelman Air Force Auxiliary Field, 45 miles northwest of Vance Air Force Base and 10 miles east of Cherokee, Okla., on the Osage Plains.
It's a route Vance AFB communications maintainers know well. They are responsible for a weekly round-trip drive there to maintain and inspect vital weather equipment critical to the flying operations of the 71st Flying Training Wing.
Kegelman AFAF is home to the Next Generation Weather Radar system radome tower, which tracks the quickly changing weather conditions in the Northwest Oklahoma-Southern Kansas region. The NEXRAD weather radar provides weather information via direct link to Team Vance for pilot briefings as well as to the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., which distributes it to regional television and radio stations. The National Weather Service contracts the Department of Defense to maintain the radar, which was installed in 1993.
The 71st Communications Squadron provides the team members assigned to "dome" duty at Kegelman AFAF. The same team members also maintain various radar systems equipment that supports Vance's air traffic control tower and radar approach controllers. SrA Ryan Davis and A1C Dereck Howerton are among the team members who provide radar antenna maintenance and inspections.
"The NEXRAD at Kegelman is a neat system to work on, because the technology is so advanced," Airman Davis said. "I like driving up to Kegelman, because it adds variety to our work week, but going up there for a 2 a.m. troubleshooting emergency isn't quite as fun."
The NEXRAD covers a 240 nautical-mile radius.
"The white round radome protects the NEXRAD antenna inside it, so nothing inhibits the signal that sends out the weather information collected," Airman Davis said.
"So many people rely on this information for forecasts and storm warnings," Airman Howerton said. "This system is a huge responsibility, so training is very specialized."
"Oklahoma weather is so unpredictable, it keeps things fresh and challenging for us," said MSgt Joseph Andrukaitis, 71st Operations Support Squadron weather station chief. "The NEXRAD enables us to look inside a storm cell from a unique dimension and dissect it. We can see it developing and get severe weather warnings out in advance of lightning strikes or tornadoes."
In addition to the NEXRAD facility, Kegelman AFAF is home to personnel offices and a full-time fire and rescue department crew who are stationed there permanently to respond to emergencies.
Undergraduate student pilots from Vance AFB use the Kegelman AFAF in their various flight patterns to practice runway "touch and goes" and flyovers. The facility consists of two concrete runways, taxiways and a ramp. The longest runway measures 7,946 feet. The 1,066-acre airfield is located just east of Great Salt Plains State Park and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.