Lukeâ€™s mission â€œTo train the worldâ€™s greatest F-16 pilotsâ€ happens every day, and there are many people involved in the process from maintainers, who keep the jets working, to instructor pilots who teach the student pilots valuable skills. No one, however; has more impact than a small group of Airmen who work to insure the safety of those jets departing and arriving.
The members who work in the air traffic control tower are in charge of all movement on the ground around the airfield and all the air traffic in a 5-mile radius around the base. Thatâ€™s approximately the same distance as from Loop 101 to the foothills of the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, east to west, and from Bell road to McDowell, north and south.
The first interaction a pilot has with the tower is with the ground controller, who coordinates all the ground movement on the airfield, including aircraft and vehicles. The controller is in charge of an aircraft from the time the pilot sits down for preflight to when the pilot gets ready launch.
â€œThe ground controller passes the aircraft to the local controller once they clear the final checks at the end-of-runway,â€ said Senior Airman Nicole Hess, 56th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. â€œThe local controller will then be in contact with the pilot from the EOR to our 5-mile area.â€
The local controller gives departure and landing clearance and also the clearance for practice approaches. Local control is in charge of all aircraft inside that 5-mile bubble and up to 4,000 feet in altitude. Inside a 3-mile radius Luke gets clearance from Phoenix to use up to 11,000 feet.
â€œInside the 3-mile ring Luke pilots can do a simulated flame-out,â€ said Airman 1st Class Matt Goodspeed, 56th OSS air traffic controller. â€œA simulated flame-out is to help pilots know what to do if their engine goes out. A pilot climbs to 11,000 feet and then makes a spiral down until they can make a low approach.â€
Once an aircraft leaves the 5-mile tower area, the local controller hands the aircraft off to the coordinator to ensure a smooth transition from the tower control to the radar approach control. The aircraft will be out of the towerâ€™s control until they re-enter the 5-mile range when the tower again gains control.
â€œOnce an aircraft comes within our 5-mile radius the radar approach control will hand them off to us up here in the tower,â€ Hess said. â€œThe coordinator will get the information from the RAPCON and give it to the local controller. Once they land, the local controller gives them to the ground controller.â€
Before being able to plug in and begin directing air traffic, controllers like everyone else attend a technical school to learn the basics of the job. They receive their schooling at Keesler AFB, Miss., over three-to-four months.
â€œWe are the only career in the Air Force that doesnâ€™t receive their occupational badge from graduating tech school,â€ Hess said. â€œWe have to come to our first duty station and get our facility rating before we receive our badge.â€