December 4, 2009 (by 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson) - Shaw Airmen supporting the alert mission, from maintainers to pilots, standby 'round the clock in case they are needed.
Capt. Matthew Feeman, an F-16 alert pilot from Shaw's 55th FS flies F-16C block 50 #98-0003, approaches a Cessna airplane, flown by South Carolina's Civil Air Patrol, to initiate a 'head butt' as part of exercise Fertile Keynote on November 19th, 2009. [USAF photo by SrA. Michael Cowley]
The alert mission at Shaw is part of Operation Noble Eagle, which provides quick-reaction support to protect U.S. airspace and significant events like presidential movements and space shuttle launches.
"We have to be ready if the alarm goes off at 2:30 in the morning," said Master Sgt. William Martin, alert NCO
-in-charge. "I want everything to be ingrained in them (the Airmen) so they can get the mission done."
Recently, the alert Airmen were tested by exercise Fertile Keynote. The exercise was conducted by 20th Fighter Wing plans and inspections to prepare for an upcoming inspection by higher headquarters. According to Sergeant Martin, the F-16s on alert are airborne within 7 minutes and 15 seconds of the alarm sounding, on average.
"Down here they (the pilots) train to intercept aircraft," said Airman 1st Class Andrew Norton, alert maintainer. "They'll launch a Civil Air Patrol aircraft from another base, and our pilots track him on radar to escort him out of our airspace."
From Security Forces, to maintenance, to operations, many units on Shaw contribute Airmen, equipment and aircraft to the alert facility.
"Security Forces protect alert assets 24/7," said Sergeant Martin. "They block off roads coming in and out of the alert area until the command post says it's okay to let people through."
Maintainers at Shaw's alert facility discuss ways to improve their skills immediately after launching aircraft.
"We'll gather around and let each other know what we could improve on," said Staff Sgt. James Smeltzer, alert maintainer. "We discuss things like staying clear while flight controls are being tested."
This type of feedback is something alert Airmen take pride in.
"We have the best communication between maintenance and operations in this entire wing," said Sergeant Martin.