ATC Airmen orchestrate sound of freedom
By Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 09, 2018
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
During a symphony, the conductor stands above his team and raises his baton, directing a multitude of individuals operating different equipment and creating something beautiful to the ear. Without worry for their fellow instrumentalists, the musicians train their eyes on the individual in front of them who leads them to success.
Similarly, air traffic control Airmen manage the skies from atop their tower, keeping a watchful eye over and providing direction for pilots both in the air and on the ground.
“We have pretty big responsibilities,” said Senior Airman Samuel McLean, 20th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. “We’re talking to pilots who are controlling multi-million dollar aircraft. If we do something wrong we’re potentially destroying those aircraft and may have lives on our hands.”
To become a conductor of the skies, Airmen must undergo rigorous training to learn how to overcome obstacles and take control of various roles in the tower.
“The training is pretty intense,” said McLean. “You start out with a little piece of paper and you have to memorize the runways, the airspace and all the squadrons here.”
After honing their skills, controllers become certified tower operators and receive certifications for each tower position, but continue to study to maintain their proficiency.
“It’s rewarding, yet a relief at the same time,” said Senior Airman Jacob Winscott, 20th OSS air traffic controller. “The amount of time you spend outside of work memorizing phraseology, rules and separation requirements between aircraft — when you finally reach the point where you memorize all those and you’re performing at the level you’re expected to and you get to wear the five-level badge … and you’re recognized as a controller and not a trainee, it’s very rewarding.”
After becoming a fully-fledged air traffic controller, Airmen work in teams to direct traffic and monitor the airspace, determining the ebb and flow of the runways below them.
McLean said teamwork is a huge part of their job and having multiple eyes on the aircraft ensures the entire tower floor is aware of their locations.
Together, the 20th OSS air traffic controllers maintain the airspace with safety in mind, allowing 20th Fighter Wing pilots to compose the sound of freedom and prepare to employ combat-ready airpower anytime, anywhere.