RAF MILDENHALL, England --
Whether the mission calls for clearing the flightline of wildlife, foreign objects, snow, ice or aircraft just taking a breather at RAF Mildenhall, the 100th Operations Support Squadron airfield management team is always prepared to keep our jets in the sky and continue the mission.
With this being a 24/7, 365 day operation, their mission never takes a day off, and the small team of Airmen who call airfield management ops their home are always prepared to provide support and make certain Team Mildenhall wins the day.
“The mission of the airfield management team is to always take care of our flightline, aircrews and RAF Mildenhall needs because the mission is always ongoing,” said Airman 1st Class Steven Parsons, 100th OSS airfield management shift lead.
“In a nutshell, we’re the ones who oversee various flight plans day-to-day,” Parsons said. “We’re charged with providing support to any aircraft that comes in and out of RAF Mildenhall on any given day.”
Parsons explained this includes the flying squadrons who call RAF Mildenhall home - the 352d Special Operations Wing’s CV-22 Osprey and MC-130J Commando II, the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron RC-135 and the Bloody Hundredth KC-135 Stratotanker – as well as any transient aircraft just passing through.
“When tasked with filing flight plans, we coordinate with Eurocontrol “The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation” in Belgium,” Parsons said. “This is the only way the United Kingdom allows aircraft into their airspace - home squadron or transient - which are headed our way.”
This international group work towards providing free-flowing air traffic management across the European airspace, with headquarters in Brussels.
“They validate our flight plans and say if they’re good or bad,” Parsons said. “It’s our job to fact-check plans provided to us by pilots, and let them be our guide and provide feedback on routes and any certain airspace conditions for the day.
“Some flight plans require passing through 10 different countries in single sortie, and all parties involved need to be notified and coordination must take place.”
In addition to coordinating flights in-and-out of RAF Mildenhall, airfield management personnel perform daily inspections, oversee the airfield driving course, check the flightline for wildlife activity and foreign objects obstructing the runways, while providing other care the airfield may need.
“We are essentially in charge of the airfield, whether it’s checking up on the hardstands, daily conditions of the flightline, [anything] that invades our ‘imaginary surfaces,’ which can’t be infringed upon,” said Senior Airman Deandre Timpson, 100th OSS Airfield Management shift lead.
Airfield management members learn to look out for these changing conditions and events during technical training at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
They learn the basics of maintaining runways, lighting and other airfield components and systems so that all takeoffs and arrivals run smoothly.
“During technical school, we learn a variety of airfield designs, criteria for a proper airfield, what’s allowed and not allowed, and how to get waivers,” Timpson said. “Once you arrive at your duty station, additional on-the-job training takes place - which is different for each mission set - so aircraft can get on the ground and in the air.”
Along with learning the nuances of airfield management, members utilize different equipment and supplies to make sure the airfield makes the grade. One tool in particular, the airfield friction meter, is crucial in making sure the runway is safe to open.
“We use the airfield friction meter to measure runway surface conditions,” Timpson explained. “When it has snowed or ice is present, we take it into the vehicle, drive 20 miles per hour, slam on the brakes and gather data which is relayed to all aircrews, then it’s used as a true safety measure.”
As with any career in the Air Force, work is always abundant and the mission never stops, but the enjoyment and willingness to go beyond the call of duty never subsides.
“I’ve loved this job from day one,” Parsons conveyed. “I enjoy working on the flightline, and with working in a high visibility environment, I have been afforded many opportunities Airmen at my rank usually don’t have due to the fact I interact with leadership on a daily basis.”
Timpson agreed, and added how critical their team is to Team Mildenhall.
“Without us, the mission can’t happen because we’re here to support the safety of aircraft at all times,” Timpson expressed. “If we’re not here, the airfield can’t open – inspections, checklists and flight plans – all go through us, and must be followed to guarantee mission success.”