RAF Mildenhall ATC: Keeping the skies safe

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
With 24-hour operations and constant movement on the flightline, air traffic controllers are the guiding voice for all aircraft entering RAF Mildenhall airspace, keeping millions worth of aircraft and pilots safe. How do they do it?

The ever-watching eye of the air traffic controllers from the 100th Operations Support Squadron keeps our skies and aircraft safe. They are the backbone to mission success at RAF Mildenhall.

“Our day-to-day is typically the same in what we do, but how we do it changes every day,” said Airman 1st Class Timothy Drybola, 100th OSS air traffic controller apprentice. “The beginning of our shift we get briefed on what to expect that day, where to expect the flights to come in from, as well as the schedule for the day. We guide the pilots during take off, flight, landing, taxiing and parking.”

Air traffic controllers are responsible for more than just the tower; they are also charged with maintaining the ground controllers, flight data, base operations and the radar facility. All are integral pieces of the puzzle that keep Team Mildenhall refueling the fight and powering the mission.

“Pilots have a 180-degree view of what is in front of them,” Drybola said. “We in the tower have a 365-degree view of the flightline and the sky. With the help of our radar facility, we are aware of much more than just one individual plane.”

The tower and the radars within it allow for a five-mile radius outside of the perimeter while the radar facility reaches up to 60 miles further. Base operations regulate the flight plans and take off scheduling, and the ground controllers are responsible for the flightline movement, as well taxiways, inactive runways, holding areas, and some intersections where aircraft arrive or departing.

“Every job is stressful in its own way,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Butrim, 100th OSS watch supervisor. “You have to want this job because you are constantly growing and learning. It never gets easier, you just get better at it. Every day, we come to the tower and we are taught a new lesson on how to be more effective at our jobs and become infinitely better as time goes on. That strive for excellence is embodied in my everyday life.”

The flight data section provides vital information to the pilots, including weather and airport conditions, the correct departure route and time restrictions relating to that flight. This information is also coordinated with the radar center and ground control in order to make sure the aircraft reaches the runway within the required time restraints.
“This is not an easy job, but it’s very satisfying,” Drybola said. “When a plane parks, lands or takes off, I’m a part of that. We as the air traffic controllers are the reason why that happened.”