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RAPCON Airmen keep eyes in the sky

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Glass, 39th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, communicates with an aircraft in a radar approach and control facility Aug. 9, 2019, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Air traffic controllers are responsible for guiding air traffic and keeping aircraft at a safe distance from one another. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Glass, 39th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, communicates with an aircraft in a radar approach and control facility Aug. 9, 2019, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Air traffic controllers are responsible for guiding air traffic and keeping aircraft at a safe distance from one another. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Stackhouse, 39th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, monitors a radar Aug. 9, 2019, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Air traffic controllers play a crucial role in preventing aircraft-related incidents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Stackhouse, 39th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, monitors a radar Aug. 9, 2019, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Air traffic controllers play a crucial role in preventing aircraft-related incidents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

Imagine traffic cops guiding vehicles at major road intersections: they don’t just dance in the middle of the road, make funny hand gestures and blow whistles all day. They ensure traffic flows smoothly without vehicles hitting each other.

In the world of radar control, the principle is the same: guide air traffic and keep everyone at a safe distance.

“Radar approach and control is crucial for the safety of aircraft operating in the airspace,” said Tech. Sgt. Frank Giffin, 39th Operations Support Squadron RAPCON watch supervisor. “Our job is to keep them at a safe distance so they can come and go safely. We never close here, our operations are 24/7.”

Acknowledging some people may confuse RAPCON and air traffic control towers as the same entity, Giffin explained the differences between those functions.

RAPCON has a wider bird’s eye view of the surrounding area, while the ATC tower has a smaller radius and focuses on helping aircraft land, he said.

Although specific tasks are different, RAPCON and ATC work together to ensure aircraft take off, fly and land safely.

Here at Incirlik Air Base, the mission is unique because the air space is shared between U.S. and host nation aircraft. This is why the RAPCON team does their part to keep watch of the sky while staying in communication with their local partners.

“Bad things can happen if you don’t communicate out here,” said Sedat Arabaci, a translator at the RAPCON facility. “We don’t want to go down that route.”

Arabaci added while the coalition environment in the Incirlik RAPCON facility brings up additional challenges, it also offers a unique cultural experience not found in many other areas.

“It’s a fun job; I get to meet a lot of people,” he said. “Every year I see new faces, so it gets interesting. This is why Incirlik is unique—nowhere else is like this.”

Whether it’s the watch supervisors overseeing the operations, the controllers communicating with the aircraft or the translators bridging the gaps of communication, everyone working RAPCON at Incirlik does their part to keep their eyes in the sky.