During PATRIOT 21, Airmen from the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron, 173rd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard, and the 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron, 165th Airlift Wing, Georgia Air National Guard, set up and operated a mobile air traffic control (ATC) unit at Young Air Assault Strip at Fort McCoy, Wis., during their Annual Training (AT) at PATRIOT 21. The PATRIOT 21 exercise is designed for civilian emergency management and responders to work with military entities in the same manner that they would during disasters and took place from June 14-17, 2021 at Fort McCoy and Volk Field Air National Guard Bases, Wis.
“DOMOPS (domestic operations) is a huge part of our mission,” said Master Sgt. Quinn Craig, 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron and RAPCON (radar approach control) Chief Controller for the exercise. “This whole exercise is for domestic events – earthquakes, fires, floods, whatever. We’ll identify an airport in the area we can use as a forward operating base and help bring the aircraft in safely to deliver needed supplies and medical care.”
A mobile ATC unit can be rapidly deployed in degraded environments to provide air traffic control capabilities in the absence of a permanent facility. During PATRIOT 21, the simulated disaster was an earthquake and the job of the mobile ATC was to ensure aircraft delivering supplies or casualties were able to safely operate in that scenario. In addition to participating in the exercise, the air traffic control units also achieved some significant milestones. One of those milestones was the ability for a radar air traffic controller to talk to a live aircraft during an AT.
In a standard ATC facility, it is the job of the air traffic controllers to guide the aircraft coming into the airport. At a distance, radar is used to route the aircraft in and once they get closer, they are given visual instructions and reference points by air traffic controllers to lead them the rest of the way in. However, in an environment like that of a natural disaster where the air traffic control tower may be compromised, a mobile tower may be brought in to restore those capabilities to the area.