News: Air tower crew essential to aviation mission
Story by Sgt. Alun Thomas
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Day and night, the flight line at Camp Taji is bustling with a slew of aircraft coming and going; performing missions that are the key to the success of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
This means maintaining precise control of an area large in scale.
The control tower is in charge of the surface 3000 feet above the tower and five nautical miles from the center point of the airfield, said Staff Sgt. Alfredo Rivera, from Fort Knox, Ky., the facility chief with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment.
When his Soldiers are on shift they separate sequenced aircraft based on known and observed traffic, Rivera said, so they know exactly where everything is.
"We know where the traffic's at, we observe where it's at and we can sequence the aircraft behind each other or in front of each other," Rivera said. "We separate them via those same means, to get them on the ground, in the air and transitioning through the airspace."
Rivera said there is an extensive training program that must be taken before someone can be qualified to work in the control tower.
"For the initial guys, the training program is 154 days long, so it's almost a six month program," Rivera said. "The more experienced guys can get certified within five to six days and mid-experience guys take 10 to 14 days."
Working in the evenings is where experience pays off, with more traffic on the airfield, Rivera said, which means making the right decisions.
"In a two hour period at night we can have between 400 to 800 movements on the airfield," Rivera said. "The biggest thing is sequencing aircraft based on their lights. At night it's more of a positional thing."
"We have radar here, but we don't use it," Rivera added. "Everything is based off what we see and what we know. So if I have a guy on three mile final and another on two mile final, depending on where they're at, I have to sequence them behind each other."
Assisting Rivera with these decisions is Pfc. Dennis Dickerson Jr., from Dallas, who is almost at the end of his initial training period and said his responsibilities in the tower vary every day.
"I'm responsible for all the aircraft in the air, on the ground ... de-conflicting and sequencing aircraft to keep them from interfering with each other," Dickerson said.
Dickerson said the six months of training were necessary for him to be in charge of such operations.
"I had to take a lot of tests and do a lot of bookwork," Dickerson said. "You have to study the [Federal Aviation Administration] manual and there's a lot of evaluation."
This is usually done with the trainer sitting behind you to make sure there are no mistakes, Dickerson said, with the 1st ACB having to comply with the same FAA rules as other aviation towers.
"Not all rules and regulations are the same, but very similar," Dickerson said.
Dickerson, who works a twelve hour shift from noon to midnight, said the main difference between night and day is being able to see everything in the sky during the day.
"In the day you can see all your aircraft and that helps out knowing who is who, because you tell what kind of aircraft it is," Dickerson said. "At night you have to rely on pilot's reports more, but sometimes it's better because you can see their lights. That makes it easier to spot them."
Which is why, Dickerson said his job gives him tremendous satisfaction: keeping the aircraft and pilots out of harm's way.