Bilateral airfield lighting duo guides pilots home

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- This is part two in a series highlighting the teams charged with keeping Misawa's airfield mission-ready at all times.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon quickly approaches Misawa’s runway in the middle of a dense, rainy storm, at 9 p.m., with thick clouds and little visibility. Breaking through the clouds with only a split second before touchdown, the pilot depends on bright lights during that tense moment to guide them safely home. If lights go out in a building, it’s an inconvenience, but when lights go out on a runway, pilots’ lives are on the line.

The small, bilateral airfield lighting team, consisting of just two 35th Civil Engineer Squadron members, dedicate themselves around the clock to ensure all lighting and signs are fully functional, solidifying their critical role in pilot safety.

The duo fix or replace the majority of issues on the spot, replacing burnt out or broken bulbs and taking the old fixtures to the vault to refurbish all lighting systems.

“Without us, the mission comes to a screeching halt,” said Airman 1st Class David McLemore, a 35th CES electrician apprentice. “These lighting systems help ensure the pilots can safely take-off and land, along with other things like taxiing. If we didn’t repair these lights the runway could cause multiple problems down the line, ultimately shutting it down.”

Many of the lighting accidents are caused by large aircraft, like a Boeing 747, blowing them away with its exhaust or during winter, snow plows run into them due to heavy snow fall each year.

“Approach lighting is the first thing we see, giving us the ability to know if we can land safely,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Ley, the 14th Fighter Squadron director of operations. “Without the runway lighting, we wouldn’t be able to fly in inclement weather or during the night, hindering our mission.”

Due to the influx of aircraft and how active Misawa’s runway is, these two don’t just provide safety for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Japan Air Self-Defense Force aircraft but also the Misawa City Airport’s commercial aircraft as well.

“Our main priority is fixing the lighting as quickly and safely as possible,” said McLemore. “Without the jets in the sky, we don’t win the fight; these lights aren’t just lights, and we won’t let them fail.”