(From left) Cadet Airman Jacob Norquay, Cadet Staff Sgt. Kendall Fields, Cadet Airman 1st Class Creole Schmaltz, 2nd Lt. Tom Neuhauser, 1st Lt. Michael Anderson and Senior Member Ed Skaife pose for a photo during their tour of the Dane County Airport control tower. Anderson is the unit’s supply officer, Neuhauser the communications officer and Skaife assistant communications officer.
Photo by 2nd Lt. Dale Mitchell, Wisconsin Wing
2nd Lt. Dale Mitchell
Public Affairs Officer
153rd Madison Composite Squadron
WISCONSIN – Members of the 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.
With raining weather pre-empting visual flight rules and keeping most small general aviation aircraft out of the skies, it was a slow day by air traffic controller standards, but for the Civil Air Patrol members it meant some of the controllers’ multichannel brains were available to share bits of their vast knowledge as they worked.
One controller, Brian Campbell, told the visitors the glass-walled tower visually tracks a three-mile radius and overlooks three runways. Campbell seamlessly toggled between listening to his tower staff and the radar room below and speaking with the CAP members.
He confirmed that even with special shades on the windows, sunsets and sunrises can create difficulty for the tower staff who watch the runways. The runways’ crisscross pattern might help pilots use the wind to their advantage for takeoff or landing, but from Campbell’s perspective the setup makes routing aircraft safely more challenging.
During the tour, the 153rd Madison members watched from the tower as two F-16 fighters landed. “I love the Vipers,” Cadet Airman Jacob Norquay said. “They have such thrust and can go Mach 1.”
The group was impressed by Campbell'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 it waited on a taxiway until cleared by the controller.
“I loved seeing the F-18s land on Bingo fuel,” Cadet Airman 1st Class Creole Schmaltz commented afterward.
The dark cavernous radar room tracks a larger 30-mile radius. Once planes leave the airport’s airspace, traffic control is handed off to other controllers. Dane County monitors flights in its airspace only up to 10,000 feet; higher-altitude airspace is controlled by the Federal Aviation Authority’s Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center.
Inside the radar room the military F-16s and an F-18 were blips on a screen. Besides all commercial and general aviation flights, radar room staff coordinates with medical helicopter flights out of Madison hospitals.
Other area activities that can affect tower operations include parachute jumping from planes out of the nearby Fort Atkinson airport and small-plane traffic from multiple nearby small airports.
Arthur Janowski, the radar room guide, described the lines of small aircraft headed for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, a massive aviation event held every summer about 60 miles north and east of Madison. He said the planes fill the eastern side of his radar screen with what looks like a slow-moving “V.” Those aircraft fly with visual rules only.
Janowski was direct about what pilots of small aircraft in his airspace need to tell him: “I want to know four things: who you are, where you’re at, where you’re going and your altitude.”
The possibility that a small plane might inadvertently enter the airport’s airspace without warning to the tower is always a concern. Such craft, called “Class Charlie violators,” pose a serious safety hazard to landings and departures.
CAP is well-known to air traffic controllers for its members’ work in locating and turning off errant emergency locator transmitters. Sometimes the ELT signal indicates a downed small plane, but most often the beacon has been accidentally activated.
The week before the squadron’s visit, an ELT was heard from a site near the Dane County airport. An emergency alarm sounds in the radar room until the ELT is shut off. A quick resolution to such distractions, as accomplished last week by Madison members, is greatly appreciated by the staff.