SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – A quick decision by an 80th Operations Support Squadron Radar Approach Control civilian prevented a potential mid-air collision of two Air Force aircraft on Aug. 1, 2019, becoming the first controller in Sheppard AFB history to earn the Lt. Gen. Gordon A. Blake Aircraft Assist Award for aviation safety.
David Bowles, whose experience spans 35 years including 20 at Sheppard, received the award May 2, 2020.
“I was just doing my job and I have no doubt any one of those (RAPCON) controllers would have done the same that day,” Bowles said.
According to Air Force Instruction 36-2807, “Headquarters United States Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Plans and Requirements Annual Awards Program,” the award is given for an action that results in the safe recovery of an imperiled airborne aircraft or help given to an endangered aircraft on the ground. The action must clearly extend beyond normal duty requirement, be professional and cast no reasonable doubt that, without this action, damage would have likely resulted.
Bowles was providing air traffic control services for multiple aircraft in a complex military operating area on Aug. 1, 2019, when he received simultaneous calls from two local Air Route Traffic Control Centers. Both agencies were requesting to transfer aircraft through airspace under Bowles’ control. He denied both requests because a Sheppard AFB T-6 Texan II was conducting a routine training mission in the requested transition area.
About 10 seconds later, Bowles observed a KC-135 Stratotanker turning to the northeast, climbing to the same altitude as the T-6 Texan II. He immediately alerted the T-6 to the conflict, but did not receive a response from the aircraft.
Bowles transmitted the information a second time and after a successful contact, he instructed him to “work east immediately, traffic southwest, 3 miles at 9,000 (feet).” The T-6 pilot acknowledged the transmission and turned to the east.
Bowles situational awareness amid complex traffic and his ability to recognize an unauthorized airspace entry extended beyond his normal duty requirements.
His subsequent and swift actions prevented probable damage and a potential collision between the T-6 and KC-135, resulting in the safety of five personnel and aircraft valued at $45 million
“He is a tremendous asset to the team and I admire his positive influence on both our young and seasoned controllers,” said Captain Abigayil Oilar, Airfield Operations Flight Commander and Bowles’ supervisor.
Bowles also received a letter of appreciation from Safety Investigation Board President Col. Todd Dyer.