National Geographic : 1957 Mar
Weather Service boys. He wants to know how he can get the best break on winds, what the cloud coverage is likely to be, what fronts are building up, at what points he may expect ice to form on his aircraft, and other weather data. This information comes clattering in by teletype and facsimile machine from more than 400 Air Weather Service stations in 17 countries all over the world. To collect data, technicians of seven airborne weather squad rons in 1956 spent the equivalent of eight years' flying time, stalked hurricanes and typhoons, and flew a mission a day into the North Pole area alone. From the moment he boards his plane the pilot draws upon the resources of Airways and Air Communications Service, not simply to help him take off and land but to keep him constantly on course. From Alaska to Panama, Germany to Korea, some 30,000 AACS men operate a complex web of radio ranges, point-to-point and ground-to-air sta tions, direction finders, homing and marker beacons, and long-range navigational aids a 24-hour-a-day "eye in the sky." Daily Load: 10,000,000 Words Nerve center of this web is a squat white building at Andrews Air Force Base, near the Nation's Capital, called STRATCOM short for Strategic Communications (page 302). Here one day I walked past bay after bay of teletypes, tall multiplex machines that winked and glowed and gave off a gentle warmth, rooms full of enciphering gadgets and radio monitors. By merely picking up a phone and asking the operator, I could be talking with an over seas base in no more time than it would take to place a local call. If I wished to send a written message to Tokyo, it would clatter off on a punched tape, be picked up by an AACS relay station in California, and then flash by radioteletype across the Pacific in a matter of seconds. AACS serves not only MATS but the whole Air Force. And the Air Force strikes one as a rather wordy outfit: No less than 10 mil lion words a day traverse the AACS airways. At Andrews's near-by Radar Approach Con trol facility I watched a typical AACS team operate RAPCON. In a great room below ground, pitch-dark except for the moonlike luster of radarscopes and illuminated charts, half a dozen operators direct military air traffic pouring into the airbase. Standing behind a young AACS sergeant, 308 C-124 Lifts United Nations Troops En route to Japan, off-duty airmen read and relax before take-off from Korea.