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New radar praised at Johnstown

A squadron based at the John Murtha Airport in Johnstown has become the most used air traffic control unit in the Air National Guard thanks to a new radar system, officials said.

The Radar Approach Control, or RAPCON, system went operational on May 5 when the 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron took over some airspace from the Cleveland Center.

The number of flights controlled by the 258th from the John Murtha Airport in Johnstown is expected to increase. The unit typically handles about 7,000 flights per month. Officials project that by the end of the year, the unit will handle air traffic control for 80,000 flights.

The new radar system, with improved lower-altitude radar coverage and better weather tracking, will enhance flight safety for military and civilian planes and seven regional airports, officials said.

"We are the only unit in the whole Air Force that has every piece of equipment out there," said Maj. Joe Hensley, 258th commander. "We are very unique in that we are the only unit that has a fixed tower, a mobile tower, a fixed radar and a mobile radar."

About 50 members of the 258th who were deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom during the past year returned home on Saturday to an awards ceremony.

The squadron went through nine years of preparation before implementing RAPCON.

"The 258th is a class act in every level of this organization. It's about morale and passion, and you see that here. You see the enthusiasm and the passion here," said Scott Duke, who was lead inspector for a National Guard commissioning certification inspection that was conducted in April.

The 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron is attached to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing, based in Coraopolis, and handles military and civilian air traffic at 8,000 feet and below, said 1st Lt. Chris Preffer, spokesman for the 171st.

"It's not a civilian-operated tower," he said. "There are a few of them in the country."

The Johnstown airport offers an alternate operating location for Pittsburgh-based refueling aircraft and Harrisburg-based aircraft should their home bases become unusable.

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