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Air traffic controllers equip in front line tech

Master Sgt. Michael Thomsen, 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron, examines the innards of a Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN) at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., April 13, 2012. The newly acquired TACAN acts as a navigation system for pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Crane/Missouri Air National Guard)

Master Sgt. Michael Thomsen, 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron, examines the innards of a Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN) at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., April 13, 2012. The newly acquired TACAN acts as a navigation system for pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Crane/Missouri Air National Guard)

A Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN) sits at the 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., April 13, 2012. The newly acquired TACAN acts as a navigation system for pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Crane/Missouri Air National Guard)

A Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN) sits at the 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., April 13, 2012. The newly acquired TACAN acts as a navigation system for pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Crane/Missouri Air National Guard)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- It's a deployable piece of technology, much too large for an Airman's backpack. In fact, it's nearly 20,000 pounds of the latest and greatest air traffic control transmitter on four wheels.

"To put it in its most simple terms, it's an electronic lighthouse for aircraft," said Master Sgt. Michael Thomsen, the sergeant in charge of it.

The 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron here is speaking about its new Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN).

"We are looking forward to testing our new TACAN at Rosecrans," said Maj. John Howie, 241st commander, Missouri Air National Guard. "We're all excited to see it arrive."

The massive transmitter and antenna unit - as large as a delivery truck - packs up into its own rolling trailer, which can be towed around an airfield and airlifted to contingencies aboard a C-130 Hercules or larger military aircraft. It also has its own power generator.

Thomsen said military pilots use it to navigate to an airfield.

"It's mainly used by military aircraft, few civilian airports have one," he said.

The TACAN upgrades their previous system and transmits important bearing and distance information. This one has a longer reach and can be maintained remotely.

The squadron deployed for overseas contingency operations in 2002 with a similar transmitter.

"We can set it up anywhere, upon deployment, after about two hours of our arrival," said Thomsen. Once set up, the squadron has the ability to maintain it from miles away using remote capabilities.

Thomsen said the squadron will train on the TACAN's general setup. Future plans are to deploy with it to a training site.