An air traffic controller at the Ramon airbase tower, amid the unique atmosphere
Air traffic controllers at Tel Nof airbase, who perform three years of mandatory military service, instead of the customary two years required of female soldiers
The “Negev” tower at the Nevatim airbase, which is responsible for the activity of the Transport Division
An air traffic controller at Tel Nof airbase, which controls UAVs, fighter jets, transport helicopters, and airborne units Every day and night, air traffic controllers man the control towers of the IAF. Three IAF Site journalists were dispatched to major IAF airbases in order to gain a better understanding of the job of air traffic controlling from up close
Shani Pomes, Shir Cohen, and Michal Khayut
We are not sure if it was the height of the tower, the fact that the controllers live together in the tower or the operational atmosphere, but something about the field of air traffic control fascinated us and so we decided to try to integrate ourselves into the daily life of control tower, so we spent a day in the control towers at Ramon, Nevatim and Tel Nof airbases.
A Tower For Everyone
I found an empty seat in the control tower of Tel Nof airbase and tried to understand what was happening around me. Unfamiliar with many terms I heard on the two-way radio, I could not help but admire the quick exchanges between the air traffic controllers and the aircrews waiting for instructions.
It turns out that a standard day in the combat squadron’s tower is conducted in shifts, which start from the time a certain number of aircrafts take off and end upon their return.
During a shift, each control station is manned and the floor is filled with quiet as each controller is concentrated on the station of which s/he is in charge. Towards the end of the shift, one of the air traffic controllers picked up a pair of binoculars.
“I’m checking to see if the F-15 that is landing has lowered its wheels”, she explains in response to the curious look on my face. “It’s also important to see if it has turned on the landing lights”. When the shifts ended, the tensions in the towers calmed down and I returned to my seat.
It Takes Two To Tango
The air space above Nevatim airbase is divided between two control towers: the “Negev” tower, which works with transport squadrons and the “Nevatim” tower, which deals with F-16A/B fighters operated from the airbase.
“The flights of the Transport squadrons are spread out over the course of the day so it is harder to condense the work “, said First Lieutenant Noa while overlooking a Gulfstream plane that was about to take off.
“King air” and “Beechcraft Bonanza” training in the area could also been seen. “The challenge lies mainly in the combination of platforms, the extreme work hours and the combination of training exercises with operational sorties, when we have to know who to give priority”.
I divided my day between the two towers on base and when I moved on to the “Nevatim” combat tower, the landscape changed and the rows of transport planes turned into hangers housing fighter jets.
When the shift began, the floor filled up and the controllers approached their stations. Eventually, First Lieutenant Yael, the officer of the tower, became available to explain to me about the complexity of the two control towers that share the same airspace.
“The situation requires coordination on our part, meaning air traffic control that will be in constant contact with the second tower. There is a channel on the two-way radio designated for the two towers and the controllers update each other on what is happening at the other tower. There is a lot of team work here”.
I arrived at the Ramon airbase tower and decided to use the down time in the tower to find out some details about the job of the air traffic controllers in the tower.
“In most cases, the controllers continue to obtain additional expertise throughout their service”, explained First Lieutenant Dvir, commander of the tower. “There are a lot of things to learn and it is not rare that we have controllers who are released after three years and still have not completed all of the courses”.
The air traffic control course lasts around three months and about half of this time is spent in the tower where the future-controllers will be assigned. However, this is not the end of their training and throughout their whole service, the controllers advance among the different stations.
“In our specific tower, there is a station that controls fighter jets and a station that controls combat helicopters”, explains First Lieutenant Dvir.
The Ramon airbase tower, however, controls dozens of F-16I as well as combat helicopters 24 hours a day. But something that caught my attention was the unique atmosphere in the tower.
“We eat together, work together and sometimes go out together on weekends. This is part of the special atmosphere of our tower”, says First Lieutenant Dvir.