EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
RED FLAG-Alaska 16-1 is in full swing and the air traffic controllers are the backbone to ensuring every aircraft takes off and lands safely.
RF-A usually brings various airframes into the mission, which adds complexity to the air traffic controllers’ mission.
“Mixing all the different airframes presents a unique challenge,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Missel, a 354th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. “There’s specific separation criteria as well as different aircraft characteristics that we have to take into consideration.”
Eight different airframes are participating in this RF-A, including three from the Indian air force. This creates additional challenges for controllers, with the language barrier the most prominent.
“The language barrier is probably the most significant challenge,” said Missel. “I usually speak very slowly, reiterating things as needed, and I keep my ears open to listen to what’s being said more carefully than I normally would.”
Another challenge air traffic controllers face is the different style of flying that pilots from other countries use compared to U.S. Air Force pilots.
“Usually the patterns seem to be wider; they tend to take bigger turns,” Missel said. “If you’re not on your toes and really watching what the aircraft are doing, it can surprise you with some of the things you see. You just have to be ready for anything.”
Missel said the biggest reward is mission involvement and knowing he’s doing something with a purpose.
“It’s rewarding to see the integration, the different countries and different bases working together to accomplish the mission,” said Missel. “It definitely makes you happy to go home at the end of the day knowing that you accomplished something special.”