MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – Families all over the nation flock to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Air Show every year to watch aerial performances fill the sky. However, Marines with Air Traffic Control work busily year round to ensure every fan is satisfied.
The man in charge of ATC during the air show is Mike Setnan, the air boss with Air Traffic Control. He begins preparation almost a year in advance by coordinating with ATC towers in surrounding areas to secure the air space needed.
Surrounding air fields and the Federal Aviation Administration must grant the controllers permission to use the air space and facilitate the performances.
With more than 15 years of experience, Setnan knows how to prepare the air show without any hiccups. He aims to have the air space secured a month prior to the show, however there is still much more to do.
When each group of performers sends their routines in, he must schedule the flight times.
“Although I have a rough draft of when each group is flying, it is not finalized until about a week before air show,” said Setnan.
He organizes the groups based on how much space is needed for their routine and how fast the aircraft fly. He also considers how far from the crowd aircraft need to be to prevent mishaps and ensure performances run seamlessly.
Although, preparation for the air show is a long task to accomplish, controllers work tirelessly to make the show run as smoothly and safely as possible.
“At the air show, we are three times as busy as our usual busiest days,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Head, the ATC tower chief with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and a Sacramento, Calif., native. “There are no conversations going on except for about what is happening on the flight line. That keeps everyone on the same page and makes it possible to handle the air traffic effectively.”
The roster for the controllers, who work the air show, is made up of Marines who have the most experience, so the possibilities of errors are minimal. The most experienced Marines’ complete attention to detail ensures safety both in the air and on the ground.
“I watch every minute tick by during the air show,” said Setnan. “I am watching every move on the air field for the entire air show.”
Whether controllers are busy or not, they still watch the show from a different point of view in the tower.
“It’s cool to think that we work behind-the-scenes to help create an awesome show,” said Head. “We can send out pilots worry-free, so they can entertain the fans.”
Due to the groundwork by air traffic controllers, each year’s event runs smoothly and entertains Marines and families from San Diego and across the nation.