Navigating the roads in the sky: WAFB builds strong relationships with FAA

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christina Carter
  • 509th Bomb Wing

Imagine driving on the interstate and never being able to see the road. How would you manage to avoid crashing or knowing when to exit? Pilots experience this every day, both military and civilian alike.

In order to navigate the roads in the sky, Whiteman Air Force Base pilots utilize their instruments and the military and civilian air traffic controllers to help keep them on track.

“Flying in the national airspace system is a team effort and having the FAA as one of our advocates is a force enabler,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Geoffrey Steeves, 509th Operations Group commander. “We rely on the air traffic control team to provide separation from other air traffic. We also depend on their flexibility, specifically the Kansas City Center's willingness to allow our pilots to do essential tactical training.”

Training sorties in a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber increase the air traffic control workload because they don’t follow the same flying style like the point-to-point, airliner type flying performed by commercial pilots.

“Airliners tend to fly in straight lines and their commercial avionics reduce the workload,” Steeves said. “A focus of our engagements is to offer insights to the controllers on how our equipment differs from non-military aircraft and why, unlike the airliners, the B-2 tends to meander the skies to accomplish our training objectives.”

Accomplishing the many training objectives required to become a B-2 pilot, takes a lot of buy-in from the local community.

One example of a training requirement is the B-2 initial qualification check ride, the equivalent to the final exam of B-2 pilot training. One major component of the evaluation is air to air refueling.

“During one student’s check ride, the air refueling tanker he was working with cancelled on him,” Steeves said.  “Given the FAA’s familiarity with Whiteman’s mission, and perhaps sensing the disappointment in the pilot’s radio call when informing Kansas City Center of the tanker fall out, the FAA took the initiative to help support this mission. Around 15 minutes later, after scouring the regional airspace, Kansas City Center found an Ohio-based tanker able and willing to provide the required air refueling training. End result, a delighted pilot, and one more qualified to support our national security.” 

With the FAA’s mission to provide the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world, a positive relationship with flying military units is imperative.

The 509th Bomb Wing and the FAA take deliberate actions to connect and build a strong relationship.

“Whiteman AFB is not only a valued member of the community, but it is part of our federal family,” said Joe Miniace, FAA Central Region regional administrator. “Our air traffic controllers regularly communicate to safely handle military and civilian flights, which includes sharing of airspace for peak volume. We value the opportunity to work with Whiteman, partnering on daily operations in the National Airspace System.”

In addition to the pilots, the FAA works with another unit at Whiteman AFB. The Air Traffic Controllers with the 509th Operations Support Squadron work daily with the Kansas City Center’s FAA office to train safely in national airspace. 

Whiteman AFB’s air traffic controllers work with the FAA in many ways, to include coordinating any in-flight changes to a military pilot’s flight plan and helping to organize the flow of traffic of both civilian and military aircrafts in, through and out of Whiteman airspace.

Coordination between the FAA and Whiteman AFB doesn’t stop at air traffic, they coordinate flyovers in the Kansas City area, research noise complaints from all over the state and work together during other training activities.

“Together, we coordinate airspace requests we have for special training activities, such as large force exercises and air refueling missions,” Miniace said. “The Kansas City FAA Flight Standards District Office also works with Whiteman on all the waivers required to conduct the Wings over Whiteman airshow, as well as discuss and coordinate any unusual flight activity in the area that may affect operations.”

The relationship between the FAA and Whiteman AFB directly enhances the B-2 Spirit pilots’ combat capabilities and maintains their mission readiness to execute nuclear operations anytime, anywhere.