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Optimizing airspace

An Airman from the 48th Operations Support Squadron Radar Approach Control monitors air traffic around Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 03, 2018. Airmen from the Radar, Airfield and Weather Systems flight ensure that every sensor and piece of monitoring equipment is calibrated and accurate to provide RAPCON with a precise picture of the surrounding airspace.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John A. Crawford)

An Airman from the 48th Operations Support Squadron Radar Approach Control monitors air traffic around Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 03, 2018. Airmen from the Radar, Airfield and Weather Systems flight ensure that every sensor and piece of monitoring equipment is calibrated and accurate to provide RAPCON with a precise picture of the surrounding airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John A. Crawford)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --

Before every takeoff and landing, the watchful eyes of the Airmen in the air traffic control tower and radar approach control make sure each aircraft can arrive and depart, but before any controller can make an informed decision, the equipment needs to give them a precise picture of the surroundings.

The Airmen of the Radar Airfield and Weather Systems ensure that every sensor and piece of monitoring equipment is calibrated and accurate to provide Air Traffic Control with that picture.

48th Fighter Wing RAWS Airmen play a critical role in airspace management in the Suffolk region of the United Kingdom. Technicians are responsible for the maintenance and support of communications equipment between air traffic control and aircraft, weather equipment, and navigation including all pieces of landing equipment, telephone lines, radios, and navigational aids in addition to the hardware and software for all radar systems. 

“We provide the eyes and ears to help facilitate ATC and weather functions,” said Tech. Sgt. Lorenzo Gaskins, 48th Operation Support Squadron Night Shift NCO in charge of RAWS. “We make sure that information is reported to the weather flight so they can pass that info along to the pilots.”

In the United States, the excess airspace around most U.S. Air Force bases is strictly controlled by the military. However, in UK, civilian aircraft are permitted to take off and fly in a much closer proximity to adjacent airfields.

“Lakenheath and Mildenhall are unlike any other facility in the Air Force and rare to find in the world,” said Staff Sgt. Brock Mallek, a 48 OSS ATC watch supervisor. “We do our best to ensure that our fighters and aircraft we’re talking to are aware of other aircraft in the vicinity and paint the picture for them so they can keep clear of each other.” 

Safety is the main priority of ATC and RAWS Airmen. The radar system maintained by RAWS is vital for keeping track of aircraft once they leave the visual range of the control tower. It enables Lakenheath air traffic controllers to monitor and direct traffic within the local area of the base to make sure Air Force aircraft can fly safely without interfering with local UK flights.

“As pilots are landing or taking off they need to know what’s around them,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Russell, 48 OSS RAWS Superintendent. “The ground radar lets them see the whole picture. It lets them see any aircraft transiting in or out of the airspace.”

Keeping these navigation and communication systems running remains vital to the success of the Liberty Wing mission as U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s premier combat wing.