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Tech. Sgt. Marcus Levias and Senior Airman Kevin Voelz, both 51st Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers, talk to a pilot about his flight path at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 9, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Michael Battles)
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Osan Airmen watch the skies in different ways

Posted 5/14/2012   Updated 5/22/2012 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Michael Battles
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

5/14/2012 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea  -- Controlling the airspace around the most forward deployed base in the Air Force may seem like a highly stressful job, but for the Airmen working in the air traffic control tower and radar approach and control, relying on their training helps accomplish the mission.

Throughout the day, Airmen of the RAPCON and ATC are responsible for 400 to 500 aircraft that congest the nearly 15,000 square miles of airspace that Osan Air Base monitors.

ATC monitor the runway and taxiways, and they give the takeoff and landing clearances, said Master Sgt. Robert Fletcher, 51st OSS RAPCON assistant chief controller. "When they're done with the aircraft, they ship them to us. We're the ones who get them out to the air space."

These airfield management Airmen not only monitor Osan's aircraft, but all civilian, and Korean armed forces aircraft within Osan airspace as well.

To ensure all aircraft are monitored 100 percent of the time, RAPCON and ATC are divided into two separate locations. RAPCON is responsible for aircraft from a dimly lit room, watching monitors and radar screens that feed information about that status and location of an aircraft. In the ATC, Airmen visually watch and monitor the area for anything that might obstruct takeoff or landings.

"In our job, working together is extremely important," Fletcher said. "It's all about coordination. The wrong coordination can be a safety hazard in flight."

ATC is responsible for aircraft within three miles. RAPCON is responsible for the rest of the 1,500 square mile radius around Osan.

"The air traffic control tower really has to be able to see the aircraft to control it," said Master Sgt. Nathan Kilcollins, 51st OSS. "In the RAPCON, weather and visibility aren't really a factor, so we can watch the aircraft no matter what."

Last year, ATC and RAPCON monitored approximately 38,000 aircraft.

During a normal shift, controllers are constantly calculating and recalculating altitude, speed and distance for aircraft. The largest aspect of the job is to ensure that two aircraft are not in the same location and that there is enough distance between them.

With each permanent change of station, ATC and RAPCON Airmen train on the characteristics of the runway for that base as well as any environmental or surrounding items that could affect aircraft.

"Going to a different base, you've got to basically start as a three level again," Stanton said. "Every base is different with the runways, what you can do, type of approaches that you can handle, and it might be a whole new type of aircraft."

ATC and RAPCON controllers are duel rated and can work in either work station. Controllers must complete 15 months of technical training before they are sent to a duty station to complete on-the-job-training.

Recently, Osan's ATC, RAPCON and airfield management won the 2011 "Airfield management of the Year" for the Air Force.

"It gets stressful at times," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Stanton, 51st Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. "But for the most part, once you get spun up, it's definitely the best job in the Air Force."

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