NAS Whiting Field Air Traffic Controllers: The Eyes in the Sky

Posted on November 27, 2018 by Staff reports

Air Traffic Controller (AC) 1st Class Christopher Reinhard trains AC3 Omer Dubose on the helicopter movements and ground frequency for the NAS Whiting Field South Tower. Submitted photo.

Managing flight operations in one of the busiest airspaces in the country is no small feat, but for the controllers at Naval Air Station Whiting Field’s North and South towers, it’s just another day in the office. One of the base’s seasoned controllers, Susan Simpson, retired Navy and now civilian employee at both towers, has been working at Whiting Field since 2003. She has worked at seven different towers but says Whiting presents a unique challenge.

Whiting Field’s primary mission is training Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and some international aviators. From the air traffic control perspective, working with these new pilots is more than just a voice on the other end of the radio.

“We train brand new pilots, so you have to pay a little extra attention, but it’s really rewarding to see them grow,” said Simpson. “Seeing them grow often reflects in their voices, hearing the student pilots’ voices build with confidence through training, especially after their first solo,” she said.

For those in the tower, the biggest thing they [air traffic controllers] would recommend to a new student pilot is to “listen, don’t step on each other,” and, “if they don’t understand something to ask, ask again,” Simpson expounded.
Every student wants to sound like they got it all down on the first try, but oftentimes clarification can solve many problems, and that is something those in the tower gladly help them do to ensure safe flight operations.

There is a relationship between control tower and the pilots on the ground– a mutual respect and professionalism that must be maintained. What makes this relationship even more challenging is that both sides are in training at Whiting. Not only are the student pilots on the ground learning to fly, but many of the controllers in the tower are training as well.

Within the tower, there are enlisted controllers qualifying in different positions and systems. In addition to the trainees, civilian employees, most retired military controllers, serve as a constant in the towers. They lead and train the young air traffic controllers to manage safe flight operations in a busy aviation training environment.

For the enlisted beginning their training, they must first qualify in flight planning and as a dispatch supervisor before making their way up to either North or South tower to begin training in clearance delivery and data.

For Simpson, it’s a sense of accomplishment to develop the new controllers and see them progress–to see the moment when it ‘clicks,’ where one day they come in and they get it. She stated that Whiting can be a very difficult place to get qualified with the airspaces so close together, and the types of aircraft and their requirements being so different.

Air Traffic Controller (AC) 3rd Class Omer Dubose has been in South Tower for two years, progressing through ground, radar, radar supervisor and is now training on the South Local, or what pilots refer to as ‘Tower.’ Dubose’s supervisor, AC 1st Class Michael Hein, stated that Dubose is incredibly dedicated and quick with systems and was recently selected as Blue Jacket of the Year for NAS Whiting Field.

When asked what advice he would give to new trainees coming through the tower, Dubose’s response was, “study! If you think you are doing enough, you’re not. The most important thing is to be clear, concise, and to stay calm. If they copy down the wrong information you just have to correct it.”

Although this is something he admittedly said he has struggled with in the beginning of training, he said he is starting to warm up to enjoying the busy days. About his training, Dubose said at the beginning, “most trainers give you a pretty short leash before they key up on you to correct something. But as you get better, they do it less and less, and always go over what you did and instruct you on how to fix it which makes you better.”

What he said he enjoys the most is, once he got qualified on radar, working instrument approaches such as approach surveillance radar (ASR) and precision approach radar (PAR), “when you can turn a guy one turn to final, it’s such a good feeling.”