In a dark room with no curtains

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Michelle Salyer, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, works the approach position, ensuring the safety of air traffic in her airspace.  Approach controllers guide aircraft during instrument flight.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Michelle Salyer, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, works the approach position, ensuring the safety of air traffic in her airspace. Approach controllers guide aircraft during instrument flight.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Ryan Tripp, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, coordinates with the air route traffic control center as an aircraft climbs out of Whiteman's airspace. The ARTCC controls the airspace above Whiteman's AOR. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Staff Sgt. Ryan Tripp, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, coordinates with the air route traffic control center as an aircraft climbs out of Whiteman's airspace. The ARTCC controls the airspace above Whiteman's AOR. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Ben Leneave, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, works the arrival position, guiding an aircraft toward the runway. The arrival controller sets up the sequence of arrivals for the tower.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Ben Leneave, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, works the arrival position, guiding an aircraft toward the runway. The arrival controller sets up the sequence of arrivals for the tower.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Bobby Bielby, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, writes on a flight progress strip for the approach controller. The flight progress strips have all the aircraft's important information.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Bobby Bielby, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, writes on a flight progress strip for the approach controller. The flight progress strips have all the aircraft's important information.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Ben Leneave, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, notifies tower that an aircraft is six miles away from runway on approach. Tower assumes responsibilities of aircraft after arrival puts them on final.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Ben Leneave, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, notifies tower that an aircraft is six miles away from runway on approach. Tower assumes responsibilities of aircraft after arrival puts them on final.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Ben Leneave, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, modifies a flight plan for an aircraft transitioning Whiteman's airspace. This notifies other facilities of a change in the aircraft's destination.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Senior Airman Ben Leneave, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, modifies a flight plan for an aircraft transitioning Whiteman's airspace. This notifies other facilities of a change in the aircraft's destination.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Air Traffic Control trainees study for upgrade training, April 13, 2010.  Trainees undergo rigorous training to become 5-levels.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Air Traffic Control trainees study for upgrade training, April 13, 2010. Trainees undergo rigorous training to become 5-levels.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The radar approach control facility, or RAPCON, is the opposite of what many people imagine when they think of air traffic control. It's not a tower high above the flight line, with windows everywhere. It's a dark, ground-level room lined with green screens that provide a visual connection to the outside world. Their world is limited to a circumference of 50 nautical miles from Whiteman, from the earth's surface to 9,000 feet in the sky.

"We organize the flow of air traffic going in, through and out of Whiteman's airspace," said Staff Sergeant Michelle Salyer, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. "The way we direct aircraft not only affects our tower's air traffic, but surrounding facilities, such as Kansas City International's, and Springfield's."

The RAPCON constantly coordinates with other facilities, ensuring safety, separation and expeditious flight for all aircraft in its airspace.

"The tower controls airspace six miles around Whiteman, from the surface to 2,500 feet above ground-level," said Sergeant Salyer. "The radar approach controllers are responsible for a much larger area, guiding departing aircraft to their destinations, separating transitioning aircraft from each other, and helping arriving aircraft line up with the runway."

Approach controllers must have a thorough knowledge of the rules and guidelines for controlling aircraft while they rely on instruments for direction. Instead of CDCs, three-level Airmen undergo an arduous training program that often lasts a year after technical school to achieve their rating, and five-level certification.

"I enjoy the challenge to get through training," said Airman 1st Class Jon Jordan, an ATC trainee. "There is a lot of satisfaction knowing that, when I finish, I will do a job that not everybody can do."

There is much to learn for radar approach controllers. The Federal Aviation Administration manual for air traffic operations is mainly devoted to radar controllers.

"We follow the same rules as FAA controllers, and we work with them on a daily basis, which is a unique aspect of our career field," said Sergeant Salyer.