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In Control Release date 13.08.2018
Ramon AFB's ATC (Air Traffic Control) tower has controllers working around the clock with a great responsibility on their shoulders. What qualifies a controller, what does the position entail, and how does it feel taking part in an operational event?
Nuphar Blitt | Photography: Alexandra Aksyutich

Ramon AFB's ATC (Air Traffic Control) tower may be located far from the rest of the airbase's units, yet it is directly related to the field of operational flight. Its service members – some just 19 years old – are responsible for every aircraft that takes off and lands on Ramon's runways. They serve in the tower day and night, eat together, shower together and even sleep together.

These control towers are located in most IAF airbases. Each day they oversee hundreds of takeoffs and landings, from the moment the aircraft leaves the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) and to the moment it lands safely. At any given moment, at least two active controllers are situated in the tower, with the number of controllers varying according to the number of flights.

Operational at the Heart of the Desert
Ramon AFB is home to various squadrons operating "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jets, "Peten" (AH-64 Apache) and "Saraf" (AH-64 Apache Longbow) attack helicopters. As a result, the tower is highly active and is often required to handle operational situations.

A standard day at the control tower begins with a brief and ends late in the night when there are no more flights. "We begin with a brief and overview the day's schedule. The shift supervisor determines the shifts according to takeoffs and landings throughout the day", said Lt. Idan Heimberg, an air traffic controller and instruction officer in the tower. Sgt. Maayan Dahan adds: "At the end of each day we debrief and indicate points for improvement. Our position places a great emphasis on debriefing".

Hard Work
Shifts at the tower are usually three hours long, with each controller manning either one or two positions. "When an aircraft approaches the runway with a certain malfunction, the tower works hard to ensure its safe landing", elaborated Sgt. Maayan. "We know that people's lives and expensive military equipment are in our hands".

There are various posts in the tower, with each controller being trained to operate certain posts. Throughout their service, the controllers can progress to more advanced posts and become instructors in their previous ones. "The more advanced the post you man is, the more situations you can assist in", explained Sgt. Maayan.

"That's what I love about our position – we learn throughout our entire service", said Lt. Idan with a smile. "The unit trains itself. We have to keep up the pace and instruct others at the highest level possible. We are dealing with human lives".

Great Expectations
Pre-enlistment trials are required in order to become an air traffic controller. After enlisting, the cadets undergo their basic training and course in Uvda AFB. Seeing as each control tower in the IAF is different, the controllers arrive at their designated tower while still in the course. It should be noted that female service members serve for two years and eight months in this position instead of the usual two years – equal to the duration of male service. "This position isn't suited for everyone", said Sgt. Maayan. "The intensiveness, pressure and high professional demands in the tower are only for certain people. We are all perfectionists. We give all we've got and love working under pressure".

Ramon AFB's air traffic controllers have seen numerous significant operational events over the past years. "These moments show us how significant our work is", concluded Lt. Idan. "We realize that we take part in serious activity, and a while later we hear about it in the news. We may not be in the air but we still feel like a part of the mission. That is what we're here for".