at the airport is complex
By MIKE O’ROURKE
City Editor, Brainerd Daily Dispatch
It takes more than a long, dry strip of pavement
to provide for a smooth landing these days. Any
airport worth its salt is equipped with the most
up-to-date safety equipment it can get its hands
Taking care of that equipment at the
Brainerd-Crow Wing County Airport is primarily
the job of one man—Earl D. Johnson of the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
As the electrical technician at the Brainerd
airport, Johnson maintains repair logs and sees
to it that certified inspections of safety
equipment are carried out once a month. Other
FAA personnel come to the airport every three
months to check on how everything is operating.
“All of these things are made to operate by
themselves,” he said.
Every 2,000 hours the runway lights are
replaced. They are equipped with varying
frequencies for daytime (using a high frequency)
and night time (which requires a lower
“Primarily, the name of the game is preventive
maintenance, to keep something from failing,”
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Johnson was a radar
technician in the service. He came to Brainerd
as the FAA’s electrical technician in 1970 when
the lighting system and navigational aids for
pilots were quite limited, compared to today.
The safety improvements at Brainerd have been
substantial and he expects them to continue in
“We’re going to have one of the best-equipped
airports,” he said. “My job up here is to
maintain the equipment.”
The technical acronyms which are used by FAA
personnel to describe the equipment which helps
pilots land are confusing to the layman.
Following is a list of some of those terms and a
brief explanation on what their function is at
VASI – A Visual Approach Slope Indicator
designed to help pilots as they approach the
runway. Pilots who are too high will see a white
light. Those who are too low will see a red
light and combination means that the approach is
VORTAC – Very High Frequency Omnirange Tactical
Air Navigation. This is located near Garrison
and is designed to help pilots who may have lost
REIL – Runway End Indicator Light or strobe
lights which identify the end of the runway.
LOCALIZER – An instrument which radiates a
signal to help align the pilot properly. The
pilot reads a needle on a panel of instruments
in the cockpit in order to find out whether he
is aligned correctly.
RCO – A Remote Control Outlet which allows the
pilot to make audio contact through telephone
lines with a flight service center in
MALSER – Medium Approach Alignment Indicator
Light which is controlled by the pilot and used
at night or during bad weather.
RAIL – Runway Alignment Indicator Light which
creates an effect with strobe lights that is
sometimes referred to as a “running rabbit”
along the runway.