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U.S. squadron pilots with commercial GPS

by Bob Brewin

Federal Computer Week


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February 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:56 p.m. EST (1756 GMT)

AL JABAR AIR BASE, Kuwait (IDG) -- Technicians with the Maryland Air National Guard Fighter Squadron here came up with a novel solution to provide pilots of the unit's aging A-10 ground support aircraft with satellite navigational systems.

Lt. Col. Paul Tanaka, commander of the 104th Squadron of the Maryland ANG, said Global Positioning Systems were determined not to be an integral part of the aircraft. Therefore, the A-10s -- awkward-looking planes dubbed "warthogs" and "tank killers" -- were not outfitted for GPS.

But squadron technicians figured out how to mount a commercial, handheld GPS receiver from Garmin Corp. in the aircraft. Tanaka said the 104th's technicians added a socket to the Garmin receiver, much like the sockets available in camping gear catalogs. The socket allows the pilot to plug the GPS unit into an outlet normally used for an auxiliary light in the cockpit.

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The pilots then hang the receiver on the inside of aircraft door, providing what Tanaka described as additional "poor man's situational awareness" as they fly their patrols. It also provides an additional navigational track that the pilot can correlate with the A-10's built-in Inertial Navigation System.

While the commercial GPS receiver delivers position accuracy only within a range of 100 meters -- compared with accuracy of 5 meters or better for military receivers -- Tanaka called that "good enough'' for the 104th. He described the commercial GPS project as a "squadron developed effort" that provided the 104th's aircraft with GPS capabilities faster and at a lower cost than plans to retrofit the A-10 with military GPS receivers.

Tanaka said the squadron also has acquired Garmin receivers for pilots to use in their survival kits. He said those receivers could provide a downed pilot with accurate information to guide in a rescue aircraft to their position.

Bob Brewin is an editor at large for Federal Computer Week.

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GPS for Everyone: How the Global Positioning System Can Work for You, by L. Casey Larijani
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