High above the Fryingpan Valley in Colorado looms Red Table Mountain, a massive 18-mile long sandstone ridge protruding sharply from the valley below. The mountain top is accessible by a 4-wheel drive vehicle just two months of the year, a bumpy ride up a single lane road so rough it can wear out the wheels of an army jeep in a single trip. The rest of the year, the only way to the top is by helicopter. Here, at the clear altitude of 12,000 feet, FAA maintains a radar site for guiding aircraft over the Continental Divide. It is arguably one of the worst locations for a radar failure to happen.
Most radar sites are operated on commercial power, and are backed up by a generator with a Power Conditioning System (PCS). The PCS supports the Critical Radar Loads during power bumps, power spikes, voltage sags and transitions from commercial to engine-generated power. The static switch and the PCS unit have to make the transition in less than 4 milliseconds to ensure uninterrupted function of the beacon, radio transmitters and other radar equipment. The PCS at the Red Table Mountain site had a frustrating problem: PCS batteries were supposed to last up to 4 years, but they only lasted a year to year and a half. The frequent replacement of the batteries was costly and time-consuming. The site personnel suspected that the PCS unit was going to batteries frequently, without the engine sensing a power failure. It was not clear why this would be happening, so they requested assistance in identifying the problem.
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