Whiteman Tower: Eyes on the Skies

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Batman,509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, operates a light gun at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., July 10, 2014. The light gun is used to communicate safety and movement signals to individuals on the flightline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Batman,509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, operates a light gun at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., July 10, 2014. The light gun is used to communicate safety and movement signals to individuals on the flightline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Chanel Johnson, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control apprentice, writes on a flight progress strip at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., July 10, 2014. Flight progress strips are used to keep track of aircraft missions, and contain the aircraft name, type, departure time and instructions for landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Chanel Johnson, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control apprentice, writes on a flight progress strip at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., July 10, 2014. Flight progress strips are used to keep track of aircraft missions, and contain the aircraft name, type, departure time and instructions for landing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Craig Gephardt, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, operates the flight data systems in the tower at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., July 10, 2014. The flight data systems contain flight plans for every aircraft operating within the Kansas City Center airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Craig Gephardt, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, operates the flight data systems in the tower at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., July 10, 2014. The flight data systems contain flight plans for every aircraft operating within the Kansas City Center airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- When you are flying an aircraft, there are many things you must remain aware of, and even Team Whiteman's pilots need help navigating all the hurdles within the airspace.

Helping pilots navigate theses hurdles are the Airmen from the 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control tower. The Airmen watch and examine the airspace, mitigating any possible threats and ensuring pilot safety.

The air traffic control tower operates 24/7, remaining vigilant and communicating with aircraft to ensure they take off and land safely.

Furthermore, air traffic controllers work with other base agencies to maintain an expeditious flow of air traffic. These agencies include radar, approach and control, airfield management, Kansas City Center, command post, the firefighting team, security forces and base weather.

Training for air traffic controllers to earn their 3-level, or apprentice, can last anywhere from six months to a year. However, because every airfield at every location is different when air traffic controllers PCS, they will start from block 1 of a position to re-qualify at their new duty station.

This requires them to learn new airframes, airspace and base policies. Air traffic controllers must progress through the blocks before becoming a fully-qualified controller. Once an air traffic controller progresses through all blocks, they become fully-rated and able to train, and supervise, other air traffic controllers.

"My job as a trainer is to train individuals to the standards," said Senior Airman Craig Gephardt, 509th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. "I can train anyone that is new to this base regardless of rank. We have regulations regarding what we can and cannot do; we must abide by them at all times."

With the use of state-of-the-art communication equipment and radars systems, controllers communicate with pilots and other personnel to ensure pilots and aircraft reach their destination safely.

"Our headset allows us to communicate with pilots using designated air traffic control frequencies," said Staff Sgt. Christina Baeza, 509th OSS air traffic controller. "We have separate frequencies for ground control and local control to prevent any confusion in communication with aircraft. We click a button on our headsets to become live, making it possible for the pilots to hear us. Once we let go of the button, we can hear them talk to us. This concept is to prevent miscommunication."

Since pilots must remain in contact with the controller of the respective airspace they are in, controllers in the tower have direct communication with them while the aircraft is in Whiteman's airspace. This ensures they have situational awareness of everyone within the airspace.

Once the aircraft is out of Whiteman's airspace, air traffic controllers change the frequencies over to RAPCON personnel.

Information received from tower radars and RAPCON, helps air traffic controllers detect what is in Whiteman's airspace. The information shown consists of the aircraft's call sign, speed, location and altitude.

Once they receive this information, controllers can give traffic calls to nearby aircraft and help prevent mid-air collisions.

Attention to detail when performing tasks is crucial for air traffic controllers.

"We must be on top of our 'A' game to prevent any mishaps from happening," Gephardt said. "Lives are in our hands and it's our job to stay vigilant and alert at all times. In a career field that is highly relied on, we must keep each other on our toes at all times. Slacking and laziness is not an option.