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RAPCON: Eyes beyond the perimeter

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The airspace around Whiteman Air Force Base extends up 9,000 feet and out 45 miles around the base in each direction.

Airmen from the radar, approach and control (RAPCON) unit have the job of ensuring all pilots and aircraft traverse this airspace safely.

RAPCON Airmen are important to Whiteman because they are the voices and eyes that keep the pilots focused on the mission. Without them, it would be difficult for pilots to find their destination, know what weather conditions to expect, or avoid aircraft collisions.

This weighty responsibility is why the RAPCON crew trains on a consistent basis. To stay on their toes, these Airmen use a simulator to work through possible scenarios in a reasonable and timely manner.

Using the simulator allows Airmen in training to test their knowledge in a safe environment.

"The simulator allows us to train and make mistakes without the worry of endangering any lives," said Airman 1st Class Adam Cline, 509th OSS air traffic control apprentice. "The scenarios are challenging and include coordinating with other facilities about aircraft functions and using proper phraseology, but working through them while in upgrade training helps us hone our skills."

For a year and a half, Airmen with their 3-levels must be monitored by a 5- or 7-level supervisor when operating controls.

"The simulator allows trainees to operate each position to learn to make accurate decisions," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Palacio, 509th OSS air traffic control watch supervisor. "The scenarios we work through include high traffic volume and other emergencies. It really helps with making sure we are always prepared to keep Whiteman's airspace as safe as possible."

RAPCON controllers must be familiar with seven different key operational areas: assist, approach, arrival, military operation area controller, clearance delivery, coordinator and finals.

RAPCON also relies on state-of-the-art equipment such as radar, headsets, enhanced terminal voice switches and other communication devices to help aid pilots, said Staff Sgt. Lindsay Martin, 509th OSS airfield operations systems specialist.

"As air traffic controllers, we sequence and separate aircraft in the sky, making sure pilots get to and from their destination," said Martin. "There are a lot of regulations we have to abide by, but the most important thing is to make sure pilots get where they are going with no errors."

According to Martin, once the pilots leave the tower's sight, they communicate with Whiteman RAPCON until they reach another base's airspace. The RAPCON unit at the receiving location will then assume responsibility for guiding the pilots to their destinations.

All this training and expertise are centered around one goal - keeping our flying warriors safe while they patrol the sky. The RAPCON crew must make sound decisions, because pilots depend on them to serve as their eyes beyond the perimeter, keeping them safe from harm.