Sunday, July 13, 2008

Elmendorf Air Force Base Tour

Day 14, July 12, 2008-0 miles. Didn't ride or do anything notable yesterday, so there's no post for July 11.

Today, we finished the preparation to get Gary's brother's bike ready to ride. The new spark plugs, coupled with a fully charged battery seemed to be the trick to getting it running properly. What we don't know is whether or not the battery will stay charged. When we tested it with the engine running, at times the alternator was charging the battery; at times the battery was discharging. We're wondering if the voltage regulator is faulty, causing the battery to discharge even though the alternator is functioning properly. In addition, we discovered that the tires were not holding air. Since the bike hasn't been ridden in 6 years, the tires, while having good tread, have hardened and may have developed small cracks letting the air escape. He installed some Slime, a tire sealant to see if they could be used for a few days until new tires could be purchased and installed. A test ride is planned for tomorrow.

The highlight for the day was a tour of Elmendorf Air Force Base, arranged by our hosts. We packed into the family van and rode across town to the base. The guard at the gate did his job by checking the credentials of the mother-in-law who was authorized to enter and drive inside the base. We rode around many military buildings with names I don't remember and arrived at the building where he worked.

He greeted us outside and, while walking to the entrance to the building, introduced us to the man who had provided the Salmon and Halibut we had eaten (absolutely delicious!) and the other man who had loaned the travel trailer in which Gary, his wife, and I have been staying. We all thanked them profusely for their hospitality. All seemed to be genuinely nice guys.

We entered the building and went to his office. I'm not too much on military rankings, but, after some explanation of the chain of command, I think he is the number 3 ranking officer here; it was evident that he had the respect of the personnel who work for him.

He showed us a computer simulation of some of what they do in his squadron; it has to do with a major effort to guard the skies of Alaska, Canada, and the United States from unidentified aircraft. He talked of the interceptions made over the years, and I was amazed at the number and variety of times our airspace has been violated. IT IS A VERY IMPORTANT TASK, AND ONE THEY TAKE VERY SERIOUSLY! One wall of the large room was lined with plaques containing red stars; each star represented an interception made.

Then he guided us to the Operations Room, which had been prepared for our tour by de-classification of any sensitive information. We were allowed to take pictures of anything in the room. What I can describe is the room reminded me of video shots of NASA during launches. Rows and rows of computers and monitors, some with as many as 4 screens per person, all watching and tracking aircraft. They receive data from the FAA and other military information to know who is who (in the skies), and they visually track the objects to determine that they are where they are supposed to be by comparing their locations to flight plans filed. It takes a lot of skill, knowledge, and experience to know what they are doing. But I'm convinced that they are very good at their jobs.

We also got our pictures taken with the huge stuffed Polar Bear in the room. It was taken during a hunt by an Air Force officer during a hunt in 1966, and had been moved from location to location around the base over the years. Reportedly, as big as it is, they had to remove 18 inches from it's torso so it would fit in normal rooms. It is huge, with claws probably 1.5 inches long. Very impressive! I'd hate to be stranded on the ice and see one of them interested in me! I'd be just an appetizer for one!

When the inside tour was over, we drove to an area where they have a number of aircraft on display. I'm not an airplane buff, so I can't tell which planes were present, but they all were full-size and impressive. A very well-done display of aircraft. Nearby was an enclosure with two live eagles that had been rescued by area residents. They are nursed back to health and released to nature if they are able to make it independently.

Then we all got back in the van and drove by the airfield and a ski slope used by the military, then back to our base.

It was a good day that included seeing things I'd never have been able to see without our wonderful hosts making it happen. Gary has a great family.

Tomorrow—test ride??

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