Air Force boats keep waterways safe
By Staff Sgt. Rachelle Elsea, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 30, 2013
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The Gulf Coast is known for its crystal blue waters and seafood, both of which are a means of income for many living in Bay County.
Patrolling these waterways and protecting the safety of recreational boater and commercial fisherman, falls on the shoulders of a unique Air Force unit.
"I have owned a commercial boat and commercial fished in the past," said Mr. Ed Turner, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron deck hand harbor tug, who has worked for the 82nd ATRS for the past two and a half years. "I have been on boats my whole life and started making a living from them in the mid 60's. I just love the water."
Mr. Turner works alongside several other contractors whose mission it is to keep the waterways near base clear during drone launches via two 25-foot patrol boats.
Tyndall's tenant unit, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, is the only Subscale Aerial Target provider in the Air Force, housing nearly 30 BQM-167A remote controlled drones which are water and land recoverable. The drones are a means to test and evaluate air-to-air weapons, the effectiveness of counter measures during sorties and the effectiveness of the weapons systems.
"These boats have about three to four missions a week, on average," said Lt. Col. Lance Wilkins, 82nd ATRS commander. "In the summer, they intercept up to 20 to 30 boats out in water. In the winter season it's a lot less than that."
The 82nd launches the drones after the patrol boats ensure it is clear.
Colonel Wilkins wants to relay the message that the patrol boats do not want to take away from the individuals' purpose for being on the water.
"When they approach a person, they are not trying to be mean or cruel and they aren't trying to take their best fishing spot," Colonel Wilkins said. "This is a government area we have to isolate. We are just here to keep you safe."
Mr. Turner echoed his sentiment.
"We are just trying to keep everyone safe; that is our job," Mr. Turner, a Panama City ntive, said. "We keep the quarter clear when they launch."
The boats patrol along the Gulf of Mexico, St. Andrew Sound and Crooked Island, he added. This is an area owned by Tyndall, but open to the public.
"We just tell the civilian boats, if any are out there, the range is closed for sub-scale or a full-scale launches," said Mr. Turner. "We also give them fliers with all the information they need."
All the corridor closure schedules are broadcasted over VHF radio channel 16 at 4 p.m. the day prior to drone operations and then again 90, 60, 30, 15, 10 and 5 minutes prior to launch. All watercraft and personnel must be clear of the restricted area one and a half hours before operations begin.
Radio communications with Tyndall Watercraft Operations personnel is also available via VHF channel 16, call sign: Tyndall Marine Operations or Tyndall Drone boat. Twenty-four hour information is available via land line (850) 283-4766.
"We are concerned not only for the safe operations of Air Force personnel, but also the boats in the Gulf, both fishing and recreational," Colonel Wilkins said.