One of a kind: B-1B Antenna Shop only one in the Air Force; sustains entire B-1B fleet
By Brandice J. Armstrong , Tinker Air Force Base Public Affairs
/ Published July 20, 2007
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE --
Nearly 20 years after the B-1B Antenna/Radar shop first opened, it remains the only one in the Air Force. That means every B-1B antenna needing repair must come through Tinker Air Force Base.
Built by Westinghouse, the B-1B antenna is affixed to the nose of the aircraft and is valued at roughly $4.5 million. The antenna allows the aircraft to fly itself at an altitude of 2,000 feet, while maintaining a speed of nearly Mach 1. There are about 100 operational antennae and each antenna has 10 different functions. They include terrain following, high-resolution ground mapping and weather avoidance.
"At that speed humans can make a mistake, whereas this radar can keep people from flying into the ground or into a mountain," said Richard Emholtz, B-1B Compact Range work leader, who has worked in the shop since it opened. "Believe it or not, these are some of the best radars that have ever been built, even today."
The B-1B was first introduced to the Air Force in 1986. The repair shop, which is part of the 550th Commodities Maintenance Group, opened in 1988. Mr. Emholtz is one of a few who can claim he has helped repair every antenna in the fleet, at least once.
When a malfunctioning antenna is recognized, the antenna is brought to the shop with a tag identifying the potential problem. One of eight electronic technicians will test the antenna to ensure the problem description is accurate.
Possible problems include an air leak, which could mean a motor is bad or the gimbal, which allows the antenna to tilt, isn't working properly. Another problem could be that one of the 1,526 phase control modules, which acts as the brain of the antenna, isn't performing.
In all, the repair process has five test sections. Each test section utilizes a unique piece of equipment.
Once the supposed problem is fixed, the antenna is tested at the compact range, a soundproof room with an elevated, or "floating," floor within the shop. Within the room, there is a parabolic dish, or reflector, 14 feet from where an antenna is being tested.
If the antenna malfunctions and doesn't give accurate readings when its pencil beam hits the parabolic dish, it is brought back to the shop for further tests and repair.
"The antenna is looking ahead, right and left at the speed of light and it's actually looking ahead, anywhere from 10 to 15 nautical miles downrange in terrain following mode and up to 60 nautical miles in normal flight," Mr. Emholtz said. "When this antenna is pointing properly, it theoretically could hit a target the size of a refrigerator 15 miles downrange."
To date, the compact range has never failed the shop, Mr. Emholtz said.
It is calibrated every 90 days to ensure accuracy, said Sherman Harris, first line supervisor for the B-1B Compact Range.
"I wouldn't produce an antenna that I wasn't willing to fly with," Mr. Emholtz said. "I would fly with every one of my antennas."
When an antenna leaves the shop, it is installed back on the B-1B and tested by the 10th Flight Test Squadron.
"The antenna is an integral part of the mission of the airplane," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Wagner, B-1B weapons systems officer in the 10th FLTS, who tests the aircraft before returning it to the customer. "The antenna itself rarely ever fails. The lack of problems we have (means) they obviously do their jobs very well."