EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Each day military members go to work with the mission in mind. As with any job, a little stress is inevitable, but for air traffic controllers the lives of others are in their hands.
Situated 120 feet above the ground inside of the control tower, air traffic controllers have eyes on every corner of the flight line. From this vantage point they provide landing and takeoff instructions to pilots and also track and control movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air.
The controllers talk to the pilots from a couple dozen miles out to ensure every aircraft lands safely at their destination on the Eielson Air Force Base flight line.
“We are talking to the pilots to make sure their aircraft don’t touch each other or scrape paint and we provide them with enough information to do their job safely,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kevin Winter Molins, a 354th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller.
Alaskan winters provide a challenge air traffic controllers operating in other regions of the world may not experience.
“We work with the [354th Civil Engineer Squadron] and work closely with airfield management to make sure we have accurate recording of the runway conditions so our aircraft can utilize it,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jon Dalton, a 354th OSS assistant chief controller.
The limited sunlight and snowy conditions provide an obstacle for the controllers, but after the slow and steady winter comes nicer weather and increased operations.
According to Dalton, the air traffic controllers here at Eielson conduct approximately 20,000 operations a year, about 80 percent of which are compressed into eight weeks as part of RED FLAG-Alaska. Challenges aside, RF-A gives the controllers some unique opportunities.
“We get an awesome opportunity to work with a lot of international pilots that are learning the airspace,” said Dalton. “There’s a huge learning curve and only a short window to do it.”
Since 2006, RF-A has hosted more than 20 international partners and allies from around the world including Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Finland, Israel and the Republic of Korea.
Air traffic controllers must have a plan and fit pieces into their airspace and flight line puzzle because change is almost certain with the numerous factors they take into consideration.
“We have to be dynamic and very flexible with the decisions we make to ensure everything is safe,” said Winter Molins. “We always have to be able to take their feedback and formulate a plan because everything changes.”