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The Mighty Widget: E-9A surveillance critical to weapons evaluation

Garry Acree, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron E-9A Widget pilot, scans the horizon during a mission, May 19, at Tyndall Air Force Base. Some of the roles performed by the aircraft include sea surveillance, telemetry and radio relay. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)

Garry Acree, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron E-9A Widget pilot, scans the horizon during a mission, May 19, at Tyndall Air Force Base. Some of the roles performed by the aircraft include sea surveillance, telemetry and radio relay. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)

Technical Sgt. Latisha Russell, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron airborne mission systems operator, monitors the sea surveillance radar on the E-9A Widget, May 19. The Widget sweeps the Gulf of Mexico, gathers data, and sends it to the range safety officer, allowing him to build the shoot pattern to safely test weapons during a Weapons System Evaluation Program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)

Technical Sgt. Latisha Russell, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron airborne mission systems operator, monitors the sea surveillance radar on the E-9A Widget, May 19. The Widget sweeps the Gulf of Mexico, gathers data, and sends it to the range safety officer, allowing him to build the shoot pattern to safely test weapons during a Weapons System Evaluation Program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

In today’s Air Force, the need to do more with less is paramount. The 82nd Aerial Target Squadron has an aircraft suited for the needs of many, allowing its versatility to save the Air Force money.

The E-9A Widget, a modified version of the Bombardier Dash-8, plays many roles in the mission of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group’s Weapons System Evaluation Programs.

Some of the roles performed include sea surveillance, telemetry and radio relay.

With only two E-9A Widgets in the Department of Defense inventory, the versatility of its capabilities show why the crew nicknamed the plane the “Mighty Widget.”

“We go out ahead of all the fighters to identify any vessels in the water and report them to safety personnel on the ground,” said Maj. Anthony Carson, E-9A Widget director of operations. “That data helps find a workable chunk of airspace and water for the weapons test.”

The Widget saves the DoD money by preventing fighter jets from burning fuel while sweeping the Gulf of Mexico and manually spotting vessels. As the Widget sweeps the Gulf, it gathers data and sends it to the range safety officer, allowing him to build the shoot pattern to safely test weapons.

“Essentially, we are sea surveillance for safety,” said Carson.

Without the Widget, risk to boaters and civilians in the Gulf would go up considerably, Carson added.

Modified with AN/APS-143(V) -1 Airborne Sea Surveillance Radar to detect objects in the Gulf of Mexico, the aircraft can detect a person in a life raft up to 25 miles away in the water, according to the Air Force factsheet on the aircraft.

“Using the same sea surveillance radar, we can help locate for search and rescue services,” said Carson. “We are able to support real-world Coast Guard search and rescue type missions. If a vessel is in distress, we can go help search and identify boats.”

Another big cost savings is locating subscale drones that get shot down during a weapons system evaluation. The radar on the Widget helps locate the downed drone, so it can be recovered and reused.

“The second part of our mission is telemetry relay,” said Carson. “We capture telemetry from missiles and drones, and relay the information live to the specialists and analysts on the ground.”

Telemetry data helps the analysts build a clear picture of the weapons test and see how all of the pieces performed.

The “Mighty Widget” was brought into service in 1988 to the 53rd WEG and has continued to play a vital role in the Air Force mission, to fly, fight and win.