Squadron receives birds-eye view from air traffic control tower
Madison, Wis. – Seven members of Civil Air Patrol’s 153rd Madison Composite Squadron recently learned about air safety from an air traffic controller’s vantage point when they toured the Dane County Regional Airport tower in Madison, Wis.
Outside, the runways were “clear and wet”. The rainy weather preempted visual flight rules and kept most small general aviation craft out of the skies. The storms were a welcome respite from a summer drought which has been plaguing Dane County’s rich farmlands. It was a slow day by air traffic controller standards, but for us it meant some of the controllers’ multichannel brains were available to share bits of their vast knowledge as they worked.
Mr. Brian Campbell shared that the glass walled tower visually tracks a three mile radius and overlooks the three runways. He seamlessly toggles between listening to his two tower staff and the radar room below, with comments and observations to us in between.
Campbell confirmed that even with special shades on the windows, sunsets and sunrises can make it more difficult for the tower staff watching the runways. The crisscross pattern of the runways may help pilots use the wind to their advantage for take-off or landing, but from Campbell’s perspective it is more challenging to route aircraft safely.
Cadet and senior members watched from the tower as two F-16 fighters landed. The fighter aircraft have a distinctive nose that juts forward. “I love the Vipers” Cadet Airman Jacob Norquay said. “They have such thrust and can go Mach 1”.
The group was impressed by the controller’s skill in handling a priority landing for one of the military craft that was running low on fuel. A commercial passenger aircraft had to be temporarily delayed and waited on a taxiway until cleared by the controller.
“I loved seeing the F-18’s land on Bingo fuel” Cadet Airman 1st Class Creole Schmaltz commented after the tour.
The dark cavernous radar room tracks a larger 30 mile radius. Once aircraft leave the airport’s air space, traffic control is handed off to other controllers. The Dane County Airport monitors flights in its airspace only up to 10,000 feet; the high altitude airspace above is controlled by FAA’s Chicago Center.
Inside the radar room, the military F-16’s and F-18 were blips on a screen. Besides all commercial and general aviation flights, the radar room staff coordinate with helicopter Med flights out of Madison hospitals. Other area activities that can impact tower operations include parachute jumping from the nearby Fort Atkinson airport and small plane traffic from multiple nearby small airports.
As any Wisconsin aviation enthusiast knows, the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) has a major event every summer in Oshkosh about 60 miles north and east of Madison. Mr. Arthur Janowski, the radar room guide described the lines of small aircraft headed for EAA that fill the eastern side of his radar screen during migration of small craft to EAA. The typical EAA craft is a slow moving “V” on radar, flying with visual rules only.
Janowski was direct about what he needs to know from pilots of small aircraft near his airspace. “I want to know four things: Who you are, where you’re at, where you’re going and your altitude” he stated. It is always a concern that a small plane might inadvertently enter the airport’s airspace without warning to the tower. Small planes that stray into airport airspace are called “Class Charlie violators” and pose a serious safety hazard to landings and departures.
Civil Air Patrol is well known to air traffic controllers for its work in finding and turning off errant ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitters). Sometimes the ELT signal means there is a downed small plane, but most often the signal has been accidentally activated.
The week before the squadron’s visit, an ELT was heard from a location near the Dane County airport. An emergency alarm sounds in the radar room until the ELT is shut off. Having this distraction resolved quickly, as it was last week by the squadron members, was greatly appreciated by the staff.
A special thank you to 2nd Lieutenant Tom Neuhauser, communications officer, who received approval from Mr. Dennis Vincent, the tower’s director, for the tour and to Ms Kay Macisowicz, tower management support personnel, who helped to coordinate the tour.
153rd Composite members on the tour: 1st Lieutenant Michael Anderson, supply officer, 2nd Lieutenant Tom Neuhauser, 2nd Lieutenant Dale Mitchell, public affairs officer, Flight Officer Edward Skaife, Cadet Staff Sergeant Kendall Fields, Cadet Airman First Class Creole Schmaltz and Cadet Airman Jacob Norquay.