Sniffing out nuclear trouble spots

The WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft is a unique air sampling asset in the United States Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Holland)

The WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft is a unique air sampling asset in the United States Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Holland)

Special equipment operator (in training) Staff Sgt. Stephen Carpenter, left, briefs SPINSTRA students from Goodfellow Air Force Base on the Whole Air Collection System, one of several collectors onboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Clark)

Special equipment operator (in training) Staff Sgt. Stephen Carpenter, left, briefs SPINSTRA students from Goodfellow Air Force Base on the Whole Air Collection System, one of several collectors onboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Clark)

U1B foils are essentially “pods” on the outside of the aircraft which allow laminar air flow to pass through 13” filter papers.  Shown here is the interior section that houses the individual filter papers, and like an old fashioned jukebox, places the filters in the airstream one at a time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Clark)

U1B foils are essentially “pods” on the outside of the aircraft which allow laminar air flow to pass through 13” filter papers. Shown here is the interior section that houses the individual filter papers, and like an old fashioned jukebox, places the filters in the airstream one at a time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Clark)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- More than 100 Goodfellow students and faculty traveled to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, last month to tour a WC-135 atmospheric collection aircraft.

The WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft and crew attended the 2008 Dyess Air Force Base Big Country Air Fest air show and arranged to host the students, who enjoyed a unique opportunity to tour an operational aircraft that accomplishes a vital national mission performed by Goodfellow Special Instrument Training graduates.

The Constant Phoenix program is part of the Long-Range Detection program, which is a key part of the nuclear treaty monitoring mission conducted by the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. The LRD program began Sept. 16, 1947, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the Army Air Forces to be able to "detect atomic explosions anywhere in the world."

In 1949, a sampler aboard an Air Force Office of Atomic Testing B-29 flying between Alaska and Japan detected debris from the first Russian atomic test -- an event the experts had predicted couldn't happen until the mid-1950s. When AFTAC was activated in 1973, it assumed responsibility for the Long-Range Detection Program.

The WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft collects particulate and gaseous debris from accessible regions of the atmosphere in support of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The aircraft is equipped with external flow-through devices to collect particulates on filter paper and a compressor system for collecting whole air samples in holding spheres. The filter paper and spheres are sent to the AFTAC laboratory network for analysis and evaluation.

Special Instruments Training students have the opportunity to become WC-135 crew members. Maintenance crew members fly with the aircraft and maintain the highly specialized collection hardware and software. Other crew members, called special equipment operators, operate the equipment on sampling missions. These crew members are assigned to AFTAC's Detachment 1 at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

Technical Sergeant Norman Edwards, Detachment 1's noncommissioned officer in charge of Advanced Atmospheric Research Equipment Maintenance, and SEOs Staff Sgt. Stephen Carpenter and Senior Airman David Suberlak discussed the aircraft's mission and collection equipment suite, educating the students as they toured the aircraft.

"Our sampling mission demonstrates that the U.S. Air Force is unique in its capabilities and scope of responsibility," said SPINSTRA student Amn. Patrick Shanahan after the tour. While a portion of the students visited the aircraft, the others listened to a Constant Phoenix mission briefing provided by former SEO and current SPINSTRA Instructor Supervisor Tech. Sgt. Chad Madore. Dyess Air Force Base's 7th Operations Support Squadron graciously allowed the students to use their conference facilities for the briefings.

The tour was a unique chance for SPINSTRA students to explore one career possibility.

"It was neat seeing the SEO performing the mission," said Airman First Class Anthony Adams, a SPINSTRA student. "It's something I would like to do some day. It opened my eyes to my career opportunities."