SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
As T-6A Texan IIs and T-38C Talons perform maneuvers in the skies over Sheppard Air Force Base, Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training instructors and students located in a snow globe-like building supervise their peers from the ground.
The building is known as a runway control structure and the team operating in it is the runway supervisory unit.
“Our team is chosen from the most experienced instructor pilots,” said Capt. Michael Koehle, 80th Operations Group RSU training and standardization officer. “The team is staffed with one controller, responsible for the crew and primary radio communicator sorting traffic conflicts in the front half of the (flight) pattern; an observer, responsible for possible traffic conflicts in the back half of the (flight) pattern; a recorder, staffed by a student, who records all takeoff and landing times, pattern trends and other important information concerning those aircraft airborne in case of an emergency; and lastly, a spotter staffed by a student, responsible that no aircraft lands gear up.”
U.S. and international Airmen comprise the team and are tasked to provide supervision for local undergraduate flying training, instructor pilot flying operations, touch and goes, and multiple landings during student training and solo student operations.
“At Sheppard, there are three runways, two of which are for the T-6s and T-38s with their own respective runways and RSUs that manage their operations,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Wetzel, 90th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. “The control tower handles the entire airfield and mainly the center runway. Their focus is on instruments and commercial traffic, whereas our focus is the students.”
Koehle said the current average is 105 sorties a day and as many as 10 aircraft in a flight pattern per respective airframe.
“With the amount of air traffic over Sheppard, it would be too much to be handled by one control tower,” Koehle said. “In addition, the different types of aircraft and their different speeds make handling quite challenging. Therefore the RSU program is in place to counteract limitation factors and provide adequate training opportunities on a daily basis.”
The 80th Flying Training Wing hosts the world’s only internationally manned and managed pilot training program, in addition to operating the Air Force’s second busiest joint-use airfield outside of a combat zone.
“We’re there to be a safety-net for the traffic load in the (flight operations) pattern,” Wetzel said, “and provide mutual support, safety and enhance training. The focused control and guidance we provide the students definitely support everyone’s training and Airmanship.”