Controllers move into new $12 million air complex

The 80th Operations Support Squadron's new control tower dwarfs its predecessor by almost two floors. Controllers moved into the new structure over Labor Day weekend. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

The 80th Operations Support Squadron's new control tower dwarfs its predecessor by almost two floors. Controllers moved into the new structure over Labor Day weekend. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

Lt. Col. Keith Pond, of the 97th Flying Training Squadron, serves as a supervisor of flying Sept. 6 in the 80th Operations Support Squadron's new control tower. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

Lt. Col. Keith Pond, of the 97th Flying Training Squadron, serves as a supervisor of flying Sept. 6 in the 80th Operations Support Squadron's new control tower. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It's been a long time coming for those who have swayed with the old control tower when winds get to 20 knots or greater. 

Air traffic controllers from the 80th Operations Support Squadron moved into the new $12 million 142-foot tower situated at the center of the airfield along Avenue K. 

Although creature comforts such as space and the working environment are some of the most talked about features by controllers of their new workplace, Lt. Col. Joseph Less, commander of the 80th OSS, said its unifying effect is something he looks forward to. 

"The best part is it unites several OSS functions in one building," he said, adding personnel working in the tower, radar approach control, weather and base operations don't work in the same facility. "We'll be centrally located instead of spread out." 

The other flights of the OSS will move into the new air complex facility over the next year.
Sheppard communications technicians and a group from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., spent the Labor Day weekend moving equipment from the old tower into the new tower. Colonel Less said they began Friday and moved the final pieces over Monday. 

"They worked all weekend and pretty hard, too, to get us over there," he said. "We didn't lose a single sortie." 

Tech. Sgt. Bill Washek, an assistant chief controller with the squadron, said the work space in the "cab," the area where controllers monitor air traffic, is twice the size of the old tower. The additional space allows plenty of room for controllers to work and move around, as well as improved space for training. 

Perhaps the biggest change in the cab is the upgrade in equipment. 

"We're going from 1960s to '70s technology to late-1990s technology," Sergeant Washek said. "This is a tremendous leap into the 21st century." 

New equipment already in place to enhance control capabilities includes touch-screen panels and a gadget that appears to be a radar gun on steroids. The "light gun" is a three-colored light used to communicate with pilots. 

The ground-level portions of the complex will house the OSS commander's office, weather and RAPCON. Future plans include the construction of a transient ramp. The squadron will continue to use the old ramp at the current base operations location. 

Sergeant Washek said it took a lot of agencies putting in a team effort to get the controllers into their new home. 

"All of us came together at one time and brought the facility up to 75 percent (operational) in three days," he said. "We're now at 100 percent." 

An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at a later date.