ATC Airmen oversee MacDill from “best view in Tampa”

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan C. Grossklag
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

While the majority of service members at MacDill perform 24/7 day-to-day operations on the ground, a select group of individuals oversee the area above our heads.

The 6th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control Airmen are the eyes in the skies over MacDill—relentlessly working to ensure all aircraft are safe and secure.

“Basic things we do here are maintaining surveillance of the airfield, we separate and sequence all the aircraft and make sure the pilots are safe while they’re out flying on their missions,” said Senior Airman Niteka Ramsey, a 6th OSS ATC apprentice. “We do our best to expedite the pilots because we don’t know if they’re going out to save someone or going out to give supplies; no one thing is more important than the other when it comes to launching and recovering aircraft.”

Occasionally, MacDill welcomes visitors to its flightline, allowing ATC to test their skills on different aircraft. For the past two weeks, 18 U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter aircraft with the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 from Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, have made MacDill their temporary home for training.

“My favorite part about ATC is times like these when we have different aircraft come so we get to see different perspectives and other bases missions,” said Ramsey. “It’s fun and you can’t beat the sound of fighters taking off.”

ATC is a long and strenuous grind of training and testing. Following 72 technical training days at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, ATC Airmen train constantly to sharpen knowledge of regulations, phrases and flight patterns to work with a variety of aircraft.

“It’s really exhilarating to get pattern work in with other aircraft,” said Senior Airman Sherri Smith, a 6th OSS ATC apprentice. “For me and other trainees, it’s good to get practice in with faster moving aircraft.”

While air traffic controllers endure a steady pace of bookwork to hone their craft, Airmen spend time in the tower’s simulator room, where scenarios can be created to test their abilities in rules, phraseology when communicating with pilots and the overall launch and recovery of aircraft.

In addition to maintaining readiness, new rules and regulations can be introduced to shape how air traffic controllers manage and launch aircraft. For example, pilots and the control tower have been practicing minimum interval takeoff (MITO). Ramsey explained that until recently, there couldn’t be more than one aircraft on the runway at the same time. Now with MITO, aircraft only need 8,000 feet of separation, increasing traffic flow as well as aiding in sequencing for training missions and flight integrity for aircraft flying together.

Although air traffic control can be an ever-changing landscape, there was a consistent agreement among the Airmen: the perspective from the tower.

“Being up here is the best view in the city, if anyone ever has the opportunity to take a visit to the tower, take advantage,” said Ramsey.