MIDWEST CITY, Oklahoma - It has been 40 years since the first airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, plane found its home at Tinker AFB, and the mission of the aircraft has changed over the years.

The Boeing 707 has become best recognized for the large radar fixed to its roof. It has been a critical tool in helping the Air Force detect friend or foe.

The E3 Sentry AWACS has more than 30 crew members on each flight, monitoring everything flying for 250 miles in any direction.

"Every different aircraft has its own parameters," explained airborne surveillance technician Senior Airman Raechelle Lord, "and based off of that we have matrices where we can follow step-by-step and just eliminate who's who and put a correct identification on others."

Those capabilities have had different purposes over the years, as some legacy AWACS airmen will tell you. Both of Capt. Gabriel Gricol's parents were technicians on AWACS planes during the Gulf War. He now serves as the senior director of his own AWACS crew.

"Initially when this platform was designed, it was designed as an intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance platform," said Gricol. "Now we work as command and control, so we provide big picture, situational awareness to pilots while they're operating."

As you see the silhouette flying high above the Oklahoma City skyline, the airmen are continually training for the day the AWACS is needed in a critical battle.

"I've got 1,000+ hours on this jet and I still find new issues that I've never seen before," admitted Senior Airman Shayan Khan.

While not every flight is into combat, it is the training missions performed by Tinker's crews that help protect our friendly skies.