McConnell’s eyes in the sky keep the mission going

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christopher Thornbury
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
With a cloudy sky blocking sunlight, a shadow covers South-East Wichita, Kansas, but the Airmen of the 22nd Operation Support Squadron in the Air Traffic Control tower can still see everything on base and in the air.

These controllers are responsible for safely controlling the air space around McConnell by coordinating military and civilian pilots.

"We make sure departing and incoming aircraft takeoff and land safely, prevent delays and stay up to date on procedures," said Senior Airman Bailey Hahn, 22nd OSS ATC journeyman. "We have to be on top of our game because it is a very detail-oriented job."

Being a controller is a high-stress job because one mistake can cost lives and destroy aircraft, so training becomes an everyday practice.

"Training is huge for us, even if you are fully checked out you have to take proficiency tests, and every year you have an over the shoulder while controlling traffic," said Master Sgt. Scott Hupp, 22nd OSS chief controller.

According to the chief controller, when an ATC Airman moves to another base they must be retrained in every position before working in the tower because skill levels are lost when transferring bases.

"Every permanent change of station and every deployment, you have to train up to do your job, because all air space and procedures are different," said Hupp.

Unlike most career fields, ATC Airmen do not have career development courses, most training revolves around on-the-job training.

"Sometimes I see a situation, and I don't know what to do; I freeze up," said Airman 1st Class Vincent Angel, 22nd OSS ATC apprentice. "I'm always plugged into a trainer. If I mess up, they will be able to fix it."

Wichita, Kansas is known as the "Air Capital of the World" because of its history of aircraft manufacturers in the city, many currently producing new planes. This can be problematic for controllers since one of the many rules includes keeping aircraft four to five miles away from each other.

"Sometimes I have to call off civilian aircraft because they give us the minimum distance and will cut through our air space," said Hahn.

The ATC Airmen work around the clock to prevent military and civilian aircraft mid-air collisions which, could kill or injure many people.