Flight Line Performance – Improving Critical, Wireless Communications

  • Background
  • Challenge
  • Method
  • Benefit

The United States Air Force (USAF) has become increasingly reliant on robust wireless networks to support aircrew and maintain flight line operations. As technology continues to evolve, software programs are often utilized via mobile smart devices to transmit and receive real-time data to enable USAF operations.

When end users at a large Air Force Base reported a troubling decline of wireless connectivity for maintenance troops and pilots on the flight line, Air Mobility Command (AMC) reached out to the SMS team to help resolve the growing connectivity challenges. SMS had been providing wireless network connectivity for all Air Force Network (AFNet) connected devices at bases across the country, including tablets and laptops the maintenance crews use to repair the planes. Due to the critical importance of wireless range and stability, SMS worked directly with Major Command leadership throughout this project.

To identify the causes of the decline in wireless connectivity and to remediate the problem with the goal of having wireless connections always available and to extend the signal further down the flight line for better coverage. During this process the SMS team needed to ensure connectivity did not degrade further and that operations continued with minimal interruption during the project. The project required all the systems to be operational within two months.

The SMS wireless task team deployed subject matter experts and skilled technicians to interface on-site with the customer in order to efficiently and effectively understand and address the direct needs facing the AMC at the base. The team began by troubleshooting with the local communications squadron and quickly identified an overtaxed and outdated infrastructure. Most device issues were fixed by working in conjunction with the local unit, with only two devices that required replacement.

Next, the SMS team boosted antenna strength to extend the range of the access port devices needed for better flight line coverage. A network configuration was then designed to allow the addition of mobile access points to communicate as a mesh network. The Air Force technicians were able to place these mobile devices and obtain connections in previously inaccessible flight line spots, greatly enhancing mission critical coverage.

Working alongside the USAF base technicians, SMS was able to re-establish 99% connectivity of the access points and air monitors that provided wireless coverage for the flight line, and continue to provide status checks to help improve the overall performance of the system.

Modernizing wireless communications infrastructure greatly increased the flight line productivity on base and established clear lines of communication with other bases throughout the USAF. The project was completed with the critical 2 month timeline, and SMS continues to work with AMC to provide wireless network support for 10 additional Air Force bases under their command.