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Home : News : News
NEWS | Jan. 25, 2019

502nd Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers work never-ending puzzle

By Airman 1st Class Dillon Parker 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

As aircraft constantly arrive and depart Joint Base San Antonio-Kelly Annex Air Field, they are in non-stop contact with 502nd Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers who ensure everything runs smoothly and everyone has room to operate.


“We control everything that uses the runway or enters our airspace within 5-miles and up to 3,200 feet,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Cooper, 502nd OSS assistant chief controller. “That includes clearing for takeoff and landing as well as making sure aircraft maintain proper distance apart from one another.”


The airfield is open 24/7 and supports a wide range of operations and units, including 149th Fighter Wing F-16 Fighting Falcons, 433rd Airlift Wing C-5 Galaxies, medical evacuation helicopters and multiple other operations out of Port San Antonio, Cooper said.


“This job is like a never-ending puzzle,” said Senior Airman Andy Penaloza, 502nd OSS air traffic controller. “You have to be able to think quickly when things get busy, stuff can happen at the last minute and you have to be prepared to make adjustments on the fly. You have to remember the separation rules, factor in wake turbulence and look out for the aircraft you have holding waiting to land. It’s never the same thing and you never know what you’re going to get,” he added. “I love it.”


It takes four Airmen in the tower at a time to handle the constant motion, with one position for directing ground operations, one overseeing aircraft in flight, one coordinating with the city of San Antonio and one supervising all the activity.


“Ground operations taxis the aircraft and makes sure they take-off in a correct order, while the air controller telling the aircraft in the air to slow down or speed up, spin, climb or descend to make sure they have enough space to get where they need to go and do what they need to do,” Cooper elaborated.


While specific duties can vary based on position, the general principle is the same: managing the flow of aircraft and ensuring operational safety and efficiency, making preparation an essential part of the job added Cooper.


“Since we [air traffic controllers] play such an essential part in operations, we spend countless hours training before we’re able to operate autonomously,” said Cooper. “We have a virtual simulator thats a replica of Kelly Field that the Airmen spend hours training on to get ready for real operations. There's always a lot going on so preparation and experience is everything.”


While it can be a tough job, it’s an indispensable part of airfield operations.

“Air traffic controllers are essential to the operation of the airfield,”said Lt. Col. Patrick K. McClintock, 502nd Operations Squadron commander. “If we didn’t have an air traffic control tower, then basically, we wouldn’t be able to provide safe separation for the air traffic and we’d have to shut the airfield down.”