An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

RAPCON protects lives in the skies

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Valerie Hosea
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force vision is to provide compelling air, space and cyber space capabilities for use by the combatant commanders.

Radar Approach Control at Sheppard plays a major part in this vision by contributing to the training of military pilots throughout the Air Force and in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program.

"The thought of having someone's life in your hands is stressful, but after it's all said and done, the feeling is very rewarding," said Senior Airman L'Aaron Odum, 80th Operations Support Squadron.

Last year Sheppard RAPCON assisted with more than 242,000 aircraft operations, including military and civilian.

"Our main job is to get the aircraft from one point to the next point as safely and efficiently as possible once they're airborne," said Tech. Sgt. Craig Wright, 80th OSS RAPCON assistant chief controller.

These highly trained controllers are responsible for airborne aircraft within a 50-mile radius, Airman Odum said.

Due to the intensity of this career, the technical training must be just as extreme to ensure the Airmen are first-rate.

"We have a technical training that is four to five months long. Once we've finished that, we go to our first base and start our on-the-job training. All in all, training lasts about eight months to a year. We don't get to wear our career badges until we have earned a five skill level," he said.

Most jobs stop washing out Airmen once they earn their three level, which is awarded upon graduation from their technical training. However, RAPCON Airmen can be washed out throughout their whole careers.

"When a controller comes here they're still in training. They have to meet certain qualifications for them to move forward in their careers. No matter what our skill level is, if we change duty stations our training completely starts over, because once we relocate there's a new set of skies to learn," Sergeant Wright said.

With difficult technical training and a more demanding job, Airmen working in RAPCON continue to protect the lives of hundreds of pilots every day, Airman Odum said.

Protecting lives efficiently requires equipment that is speedy, reliable and up to date.
"The equipment has changed so much over time," Sergeant Wright said. "We used to use 50s-style equipment. Now, the Air Force has improved on its equipment for air traffic control."

Sergeant Wright said some of the improvements include:
· Digital airport surveillance radar which allows the controllers to know whether the precipitation intensities are high, moderate or severe.
· Better communications capabilities permitting more flexibility should an outage occur.
· Everything is now computer based and provides easier access to publications and information. Before, everything was written down in a book. When information was needed, Airmen would have to flip through the pages to find it. Now, items can be searched electronically and responses are faster.

Another beneficial change was the relocation of the RAPCON, he said.

"Before we were on the other side of the base and more secluded, Sergeant Wright said. "The squadron, airfield management and weather operations were farther away. Now, everything's centrally located which is really convenient.

"Between the new facility and the equipment, we're catching up and improving. We're able to do our jobs better," he said.

Controllers are expected to get the job done just as well if they're at a deployed location, Sergeant Wright said.

"Here everything is fixed," he said. "When you're deployed everything's mobile and functioning on a deployable system. Weather and terrain play a factor in limiting the capabilities of the Airmen. But we still give it our all and perform the tasks at hand."