McGuire Air Force Base Tour

In February 2012 I went on a tour of McGuire Air Force base with my buddy Matt. The purpose of the tour is to familiarize pilots who fly in the area with the airspace and operations that take place at the base. I have been meaning to do this write up for over a year and just lost track of the draft post here on my site. After some recent house cleaning I spotted it again so here it goes.

Our bus driver/tour guide/comedian for the day was Lt. Col. Dean “Deano” Owens, the 514th Air Mobility Wing Chief of Safety. We met off base in a nearby parking lot and were greeted by the Lt driving an old school bus. Our first stop was a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender. This aircraft is part tanker part cargo plane. It’s multipurpose ability is rather unique according to the Lt. At the time there was no other plane that could simultaneously tanker fuel, carry passengers, and a load of cargo. Unfortunately the fleet is being phased out for new equipment in the near future. We were able to walk all over the aircraft and even go inside the boom pilot’s station.

After crawling around the KC-10 we hopped back in the bus and went to check out the control tower. We were able to speak with a couple of the men and women who work the tower on a daily basis. They gave us a brief run down of what it’s like and pointed out some of the equipment. Then we stepped outside on the tower’s catwalk. We had perfect timing because a C-17 was out practicing landings and take off so the tower told them to give us a little show. The short landing and takeoff capability of the aircraft is incredible.

The next plane we toured was a Boeing C-17 Globemaster. This is a large cargo plane. The inside is just a huge empty cavern. Calling it the Globemaster is actually pretty funny. According to the Lt when it was first built it lacked the range to fly across the Atlantic ocean non-stop because of some poor engineering. Boeing had to develop a special fuel bladder that was installed in between the wings along the roof. The C-17 is one of the few planes that can turn on it’s reverse thrust in flight. The Lt says it becomes a rather wild ride with the plane exceeding a 4,000fpm decent rate.

We ended our tour indoors with the RAPCON and simulator rooms. RAPCON is the approach control room. McGuire AFB has a large area of New Jersey that is under their control. This is the darkened room where the men and women you are speaking to on the radio sit. It is filled with radar screens and other equipment. One of the more interesting machines was the PAR station. Precision approach radar is a system used to guide a pilot using radar vertically and laterally all the way to the landing threshold. To put it simply the controller guides you over the radio and tells you to fly higher lower etc. There is no special equipment in the aircraft. Any pilot can request to practice this approach assuming they aren’t busy and more importantly assuming the pilot doesn’t actually touch down at the base. The next room was the KC-10 full motion simulators. They are much bigger than I expected and are of course full replicas of the inside of the machines. Just like the KC-10 itself these sims are on their way out for new equipment.

It was a great day at the air force base. Lt Col Dean Owens was not only informative but also very funny. The men and women at the base were all professionals and extremely welcoming. We were all proud to have such great people serving our country. In order to go on the tour you must apply by contacting the Mid Atlantic Aviation Coalition (Bob Checchio to be specific). The tour is free but you must apply in advance for security purposes.

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