ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE — With countless aircraft soaring through the air, someone helps guide the pilot in the chair. When four cargo aircraft perform a tactical landing, they contact controllers to ensure understanding. The controllers clear a path, while the pilots do the math. Then the controllers bring them in safely, while navigating airspace ably.
Air traffic controllers have the job of navigating and managing the airspace to ensure that aircraft are safe from takeoff to landing, including tracking their flights. With all that responsibility, air traffic controllers have to know their job inside and out. While technical school provides Airmen a baseline, controllers are required to receive certifications at each duty location.
“Tech school is going to make sure they have the foundation for the knowledge, the phraseology and ensure that they can meet the requirements of the job,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Clifton, 97th Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of training. “The goal of our tech school isn’t to turn out controllers, it’s to turn out potential air traffic controllers. The reason is that every base is different, we all have different airspaces, aircrafts, missions and guidance.”
Every time a controller reaches a new base, their training starts up all over again so they learn the local guidance involved with their career.
The training can be intense, covering topics such as, Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the Altus Air Force Base airspace, the wing mission, types of air traffic they will encounter here, how the planes affect that traffic and much more. This information is divided into four phases of training: local area knowledge, equipment, qualification training and management training.
“When the Airmen arrive here, they’re sent to either the tower or Radar Approach Control Building depending on manning and prior qualification,” said Clifton. “Once they are a qualified controller, we add a special identifier within our career field to identify what they’re trained on between tower or RAPCON. Usually whenever we have an inbound, we look at that identifier and try to send them to the previous location. They have to get rated all over again at this base and it will typically take them less time to get rated in their previous location.”
During the four phases of training, Airmen must qualify in every area and are unable to work on their own. It takes practice, memorization and work, but the results are well worth it. Once they’re qualified on one base, it makes the training easier at the next base.
“When they get their qualifications they don’t have to go through the FAA regulations again because those are the same at every base,” said Clifton. They are also somewhat familiar with the processes in air traffic, providing them a better chance after their first rating.
With the Altus mission of training U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker and U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft aircrews, many aircraft soar through the air on a regular basis. Luckily, the Airmen controllers here are up to the challenge of countless planes in the air.
“The controllers here know how to control air traffic,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ross Couture, 97th OSS RAPCON air traffic controller. “The mission in RAPCON is not as busy as it could be at other bases, so we have time to get it right. We have the ability to study hard and talk about all the procedures and things we need to know.”
The Altus mission could not take off and fly high without air traffic controllers navigating them through the airspace and landing them safely on base. While it may be a juggling act and a maze at times, aircraft can fly safely assured that the controllers have worked hard and gone through countless hours of training to ensure they are up to the task.