RAPCON keeps watchful eye on Moody sky

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Janiqua P. Robinson
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

When skies are cloudy and visibility is low, pilots rely heavily on the air traffic controllers in the Radar Approach Control facility to help them travel safely. Constant training is vital to their mission because it makes sure they know their job inside and out.

Air traffic controllers assigned to the RAPCON have the responsibility of monitoring, guiding and communicating with aircraft traveling through Moody's airspace.

"I get a lot of satisfaction out of developing young air traffic controllers, making them better and seeing them take more and more responsibility," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Ward, 23d Operations Support Squadron RAPCON crew watch supervisor. "I never have a doubt in my mind that what we do is important. I know that what we do keeps a lot of people safe."

Ward said their mission is to provide a safe and orderly flow of traffic that will keep airspace safe and protect pilots. They accomplish this through procedures, separation requirements and critical thinking.

Ample training is essential for members of the RAPCON crew to do their job. On average, once trainees come to Moody, they will spend their first year training every day before working on their own.

"Training is always occurring it's a huge part of what we do," Ward said. "If a mistake is made or too many small mistakes are made in succession, [safety] can be lost."

"Statistically, flying is safer than automotive travel, but if we do make mistakes, lives are in danger," said Airman 1st Class John Purvis, 23d OSS air traffic control apprentice. "We're still in training, so we do make mistakes, but our trainers are very quick to intervene and make sure they correct us and debrief us on the situation."

Air traffic controllers here talk to pilots within Moody's airspace that are traveling from Tifton, Thomasville, Valdosta, Moultrie, Homerville and Moody. They have to learn approaches or routes of travel and be able to apply them to the right aircraft.

They also must maintain lawful distances between aircraft and other mandated safety requirements, and when they are directing multiple aircraft at once; keeping tabs on each aircraft's position can be difficult.

Since training is such a big part of their job, almost as soon as RAPCON air traffic controllers get qualified to work on their own, they're assigned trainees and are responsible for showing them the ropes.

"Basically, my job is to control planes and train," said Senior Airman Sosha Sices, 23d OSS air traffic controller. "When new trainees come in, we help get them trained up on how to control. Making sure that they know the book work, making sure they know how not to [make planes crash], because the goal is to keep planes safe while in the air."

If it is a slow day and there aren't a lot of aircraft in Moody's airspace, trainees will practice on a simulator to ensure they are getting maximum training opportunities. Unlike a majority of Air Force occupations, trainees are still able to fail out of their career field after they make it to their duty station. They must know their job inside and out and earn the right to be called air traffic controllers.

"In most career fields you get your [occupational badge] when you graduate tech school. We don't get ours until we obtain our five-level," said Purvis "When you are able to wear your badge, it gives you a sense of pride. [That badge shows people] I have this difficult job, but I did all the studying, I know all the book work and I can implement it. I achieved my goal and got my five-level."

RAPCON air traffic controllers still count on other units to help accomplish their mission.

"Without airfield systems, radar maintenance, weather, base operations and a ton of other outside agencies, we would not be able to our job," said Ward. "There's a lot that goes into what we do as far as getting help from [other units]."

RAPCON uses radar to show aircraft that are within Moody's airspace. If radar maintenance doesn't keep it functioning properly, then RAPCON cannot use it to direct traffic and must rely on radio communication with pilots to monitor positions and give instructions.

When the air traffic controllers in the RAPCON are talking to pilots and giving them instructions, lives hang in the balance. RAPCON personnel hold each other accountable and ensure the job is done correctly.