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.

Luke tower controllers put eyes to skies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman R. J. BIERMANN
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Each day Luke Air Force Base's air traffic tower controllers work together with local airport personnel to monitor the surrounding skies and ensure aircraft safety.

As the road taken to become an experienced control asset can last more than two years, these controllers are anything but green.

"While constantly training new Airmen to safely control the skies, we also play a huge role in supporting the wing's mission -- training future fighter pilots," said Master Sgt. Angela Lawhorne, 56th Operations Support Squadron assistant tower chief controller. "As the biggest fighter wing and sixth busiest control tower in the Air Force, our Airmen are in a perfect place to learn this unique skill."

Located in the West Valley, Luke is responsible for several thousand cubic miles of airspace with the tower being the center focal point of all departures and recoveries within that area.

"Tower controllers provide all aircraft, arriving and departing Luke, a separation and sequencing service, to safely and expeditiously get them to the training areas and back, plus maintain a safe airfield environment," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Fletcher, 56th OSS tower watch supervisor. "Our radar brothers take control of the aircraft from departure to the edge of Luke's airspace, prior to the military operating area or adjacent airspace to which they are traveling."

Although similar in theory to radar approach control, training to become a tower controller is much different. RAPCON and tower controllers both learn the basic air traffic control fundamentals in technical school. Once they arrive at their first duty station they are assigned to a radar or tower center, where they learn area-specific regulations.

"Once we're assigned a tower, we learn the majority of air traffic control applications," said Airman 1st Class Christopher Hopek, 56th OSS air traffic control apprentice. "This five-level upgrade training and certification process typically lasts eight to 14 months."

Tower training begins with the Frontload Introductory Training Program, laying the foundation for Luke-specific information and requirements. These requirements include local frequencies, pattern characteristics, air traffic equipment usage, aircraft characteristics, and local airspace boundaries.

"There are two blocks of required training in the Frontload program and tower controllers must pass with an 80 percent to advance to certification upgrade training," Sergeant Lawhorne said. "In this time, Airmen learn their overall tower responsibilities, applicable regulations and in-depth air traffic control operating procedures which are broken into three operating positions."

This training begins with the flight data or ground control positions and ends with the local control position.

"Flight data training teaches tower controllers coordination procedures within the tower cab and external facilities," said Airman 1st Class Sean Bunten, 56th OSS air traffic controller. "Internal coordination is imperative to operations such as tracking aircraft takeoff and landing times, ensuring flight plan accuracy, gathering weather data updates and coordinating with emergency responders."

Ground Control training focuses on learning how to issue control instructions to taxiing aircraft, assisting emergency response vehicles and vehicle access through restricted areas on the flightline.

"The final position, local control, is the most complex position in upgrade training and takes 135 days to complete," said Airman 1st Class Bryan Bentley, 56th OSS air traffic controller. "Training focuses on overall control and responsibility of the airfield, runways, movement areas, airspace boundaries, instrument landing system procedures, and sequencing departing and arriving aircraft safely and efficiently on a daily basis."

Due to the complexity and consistency of Luke air traffic, tower controllers trained here are well-equipped upon entering a new tower, whether military or civilian.

"The Luke tower takes absolute pride in providing safe and expeditious support to the only active-duty F-16 training wing in the Air Force," Sergeant Lawhorne said. "We are proud to assist the Luke mission with top-notch service to the most valued and lethal asset in the Air Force."