In a dark room with no curtains
By Airman 1st Class Torey Griffith, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 14, 2010
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.