News: Oklahoma Guardsmen train on airfield operations at local airport
Story by Sgt. Matthew Crook
BRAGGS, Okla. – An Oklahoma Army National Guard soldier, using the latest airfield technology, guides a civilian-piloted World War II era fighter plane to a smooth landing at Muskogee Davis Airport, June 20.
Spc. Austin Tallant, of Yukon, Okla., a soldier with the 1-245th Airfield Operations Battalion, is one of the unit’s air traffic control specialists currently training at Muskogee’s Davis Field Airport. The unit is partnering with the civil airfield to conduct annual training and enhance the technical skills needed to provide air traffic control operations.
The AOB, in partnership with airport administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, are conducting civil-military air traffic control operations at Muskogee Davis Airport, providing benefits for both the unit and the airfield.
Typically, units like the 245th train at military controlled flight facilities. However, with ongoing overseas missions, access to these facilities for training has been a challenge, said Maj. Andrew Snow, air traffic control officer, 1-245th AOB. To solve this issue, and ensure hands-on training for it’s soldiers, the AOB looked for partners within the state.
Gary Lynn, airport manager for Davis Field Airport, says that he is honored to be able to assist the soldiers with their training. Lynn says the guardsmen have treated him like one of their own. “Whatever I can do to give back to those guys, I’ll do it.” Lynn, a former Air Force air traffic controller, said. “This is near and dear to my heart.”
Davis Field does not have a fixed base control tower or FAA air traffic controllers. Using mobile control towers and Army air traffic controllers, the AOB is able to use their training and equipment to its full potential in real world scenarios. Conducting operations on the airport allows the AOB to exercise all four of its primary functions.
The first function of the AOB, airfield setup and control, is accomplished through the use of a quick reaction unit known as the Tactical Terminal Control System The system allows the soldiers to communicate with air traffic until a more stable control system can be established.
Simultaneously, the Ground Control Approachunit is emplacing equipment allowing air traffic to be directed to the ground in low to no visibility conditions. The GCA remains in place for the duration of the operation.
The mobile control tower, known simply as the 7A, is a more stable facility for medium to long-term operations under normal conditions. Once the 7A is operational, the TTCS will redeploy, awaiting its next mission.
The Tactical Airspace Integration System using precision tracking software, known as Blue Force Tracker, can see the flight paths of aircraft across the United States. The main objective is to relay traffic reports to pilots in route to their destination.
This unusual partnership between the National Guard and the FAA required a large amount of coordination and preparation. Chief Warrant Officer Richard Harris, 1-245th AOB, a resident of Norman, Okla., contacted the regional office in Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to obtain a letter of agreement with the FAA.
This letter gave the AOB positive control of the airspace at Davis Field Airport. The letter of agreement, which provided Class D airspace control, took approximately six months of coordination and preparation to receive. “Now that we have that relationship, it will be fairly easy to turn that off and on to come out and train,” said Harris.
The Class D designation gives air traffic controllers in the AOB the ability to give guidance to both military and civil aircraft. Having the chance to interact with more traffic increases both the training and evaluation opportunities for soldiers in the unit.
Air traffic controllers have to obtain a control tower operator certificate before they deploy. Integrating with the FAA and civilians increases the number of movements at the airfield, says Col. Jon Harrison, commander of the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s Aviation Command. “This training provides a good opportunity for air traffic,” said Harrison. “It is a good chance for our airfield operations personnel to actually setup the airfield.”
The 1-245th AOB plans to return to Davis Field Airport for next year’s annual training. The joint cooperation between military air traffic control and civil airfields is vital to the mission of the AOB. “We see a full spectrum of aircraft types, pilot experience levels, and both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft,” says Maj. Pete Barger, battalion commander, 1-245th Airfield Operations Battalion. “This training builds our soldiers’ confidence and effectiveness for when we deploy to a combat theater, making them better at the job of safely bringing aircraft and lives back to the ground.”