My assignment for our "Infrastructure Treasure Hunt" was to find the VORTAC radio transmitter nearest to our campus and photograph it.
A VOR is an aircraft radio used for aerospace navigation. See:
"The VHF Omnidirectional Range navigation system, VOR, was probably the most significant aviation invention other than the jet engine. With it, a pilot can simply, accurately, and without ambiguity navigate from Point A to Point B." - http://www.navfltsm.addr.com/vor-nav.htm
and a more descriptive account of its function:
"The basic principle of operation of the VOR is very simple: the VOR facility transmits two signals at the same time. One signal is constant in all directions, while the other is rotated about the station. The airborne equipment receives both signals, looks (electronically) at the difference between the two signals, and interprets the result as a radial from the station." - http://www.navfltsm.addr.com/vor-nav.htm
After learning this it became pretty obvious that I'd find the nearest VOR at the nearest airport, U of I's Willard Airport. I called their main line and talked to the receptionist, who gave me the number for the radio tower. The gentleman there said I'd have the best luck by contacting Flightstar because their facility is situated right in front of the VOR.
Flightstar offers services for those owning and renting personal aircraft like single-engine aircraft and small passenger jets. It is a fixed base operator or "FBO". An FBO defined:
A commercial business granted the right by the airport sponsor to operate on an airport and provide aeronautical services such as fueling, hangaring, tie-down and parking, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, etc. - ^ U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, "Advisory Circular 150/5190-7: Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Activities", 28 August 2006, p. 13. accessed from wikipedia.org
In true bro fashion I had the cutest girl with the newest car in our class drive me to the airport so that I could have the privilege of taking her out to dinner afterward to repay the favor. I met the Flightstar people at their reception desk and they pointed out the radio tower in the background and told me how far out I could go. I walked out their backdoor without being molested by TSA personel and walked all the way across the airplane driveway and climbed the snowbank to get the best possible picture. From afar, the VOR totally looks like a carnival vent. I was readily awaiting a midget riding an elephant while juggling flaming bowling pins to emerge from underneath the VOR, but it didn't happen. Shame shame. Also attacted is a picture of my perspective in relation to the Flightstar complex and other airport facilities. You can see that I'm on the 'other side' of the airport buildings and I was grateful for the privilege to get back there. Parked next to some small personal aircraft and jets were a Mercedes SUV, BMW suv, and Volvo SUV. Ah, to be rich.
To relate the VOR as infrastructure tech, let us apply it to some of our infrastructure keywords:
Durable: the VOR is obviously made of strong materials, likely steel and/or aluminum. People are not allowed near it except for maintenance and emergencies considering its location inbetween two runways. Its greatest threat would be an aircraft collision but it seems this hasn't been an issue recently. It looks strongly built and is obviously weatherproof.
Learned: to properly use a VOR's signal you'd have to be trained in how to use aircraft radios and understand aircraft radio jargon. You'd also have to know how to decode some of the VOR's messages as it often uses morse code and broadcasts things like coordinated universal time (UTC).
Based on Standards: for reasons similar to why it is "learned", the VOR is based on standards. Its signals must be compatible with private/public aircraft radios and vice versa. I'm sure there are very strict regulations on VOR use as stated by the FAA and other aerospace organizations. A VOR is available for public use and therefore must transmit universally so that all pilots can safely reach Willard Airport aware of any conditions that may threaten their arrival.