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Faces of the Defender: Avionics

Airmen inspecting equipment.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Fabian Hernandez, an integrated communication/navigation mission systems specialist assigned to the 182nd Maintenance Squadron, Illinois Air National Guard, inspects equipment in a C-130H Hercules at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., March 20, 2019. Hernandez diagnoses malfunctions using technical orders, schematics, wiring diagrams, built-in test procedures and other test equipment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Wynndermere Shaw)

Airman inspecting aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Fabian Hernandez, an integrated communication/navigation mission systems specialist assigned to the 182nd Maintenance Squadron, Illinois Air National Guard, inspects a C-130H Hercules at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., March 20, 2019. Hernandez keeps a trained eye on everything from communication systems to flight controls to ensure aircrew can receive the information they need to successfully operate their aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Wynndermere Shaw)

Airman inspecting aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Drew K. Wolfe, an integrated instrument and flight control systems specialist assigned to the 182nd Maintenance Squadron, Illinois Air National Guard, inspects a C-130H Hercules at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., March 20, 2019. Also known as “GAC,” they inspect and verify the operational status and configuration of avionic systems and software in aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Wynndermere Shaw)

Airmen inspecting aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Drew K. Wolfe, an integrated instrument and flight control systems specialist, and Staff Sgt. Fabian Hernandez, an integrated communication/navigation/mission systems specialist, both assigned to the 182nd Maintenance Squadron, Illinois Air National Guard, inspect a C-130H Hercules at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., March 20, 2019. Wolfe and Hernandez both specialize in electronics and avionics and work together to ensure systems are mission essential. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Wynndermere Shaw)

PEORIA, Ill. --

All flight systems are normal in the skies miles above the Earth, when suddenly all that’s in front of the aircrew are black screens and dead gauges. Complete, catastrophic instrument failure.

The aircrew of a C-130H Hercules is now cruising at 25,000 feet with no navigation, no instruments, no communication — blind to what is around them. The stomach-twisting predicament has everyone on land and air holding their breath. Without communications and navigation systems, the trip quickly becomes an in-flight emergency.

There are protocols to help ensure surviving this hypothetical scenario, but two shops go to work every day to make sure it never happens in the first place: integrated communication/navigation/mission systems (comm/nav) and integrated instrument and flight control systems (IFCS). Without them, the readiness and lethality of the Air Force’s airlift mission would be crippled.

Comm/nav and IFCS function alongside one another as a team working in aircraft instrument electronics and avionics. Systems they maintain vary from video display to electronic warfare systems to traffic-collision avoidance systems and much more.

It could be said that Staff Sgts. Fabian Hernandez and Drew K. Wolfe, both assigned to the 182nd Maintenance Squadron, Illinois Air National Guard, are two of the Airmen hidden behind the curtain of the C-130H Hercules cockpit.

We take care of all the things nobody really thinks about until it’s broken, said Wolfe, an IFCS specialist.

Hernandez, a comm/nav specialist, compares the importance of C-130 avionics to the controls of a car. The dashboard represents IFCS — the aircraft’s indicators of speed, altitude, fuel, etc. Comm/nav is the center console, providing navigation, radio and communication.

The two career fields work hand-in-hand to provide operating systems in union as an avionics section, a jack of all trades team, he said.

“Even though comm/nav and IFCS are separate, a lot of the systems are integrated together, and a lot of times both jobs will go out at the same time to resolve the issue,” said Hernandez.

Comm/nav and IFCS ensure safe flights by conducting preflight inspections and answering the call whenever their systems need attention. This entails diagnosing malfunctions using technical orders, schematics, wiring diagrams, integrated test systems and other test equipment. Aircraft would have a difficult time taxiing to the runway without their work, said Wolfe.

“It’s a humbling feeling to know the pilot can’t fly as efficiently without what we work on,” he said. “Since we’re such a vital part of the mission and that plane taking off, it’s just that better of a feeling when they takeoff.”