April 20, 1987: The New Control Tower was Officially Opened When Air Force Flight Test Center

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  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The new control tower was officially opened when Air Force Flight Test Center commander Maj Gen William T. Twining cleared the Center vice commander Colonel. Robert C. Ettinger for takeoff in an F‑16. The new facility, stressed to withstand a 6.0 earthquake as well as 120+ mph winds, replaced the 10-story red and white structure that had been a landmark since 1956.

Rising high above the desert floor, the Edwards Control Tower keeps an unflinching eye on the constantly changing array of aircraft launching and landing on the vast lakebeds and runways here.   The control tower is manned by air traffic controllers from the 412th Operations Support Squadron who provide a vital function to operations here.  "The mission of the control tower is to separate aircraft within the terminal area, which is seven miles around the airfield," said Master Sgt. Michael Brown, control tower chief controller. "We control all aircraft that come through Edwards."   Edwards has three hard-surface runways, one located on the Main Base Edwards, another on North Base and the third on South Base. There are another 18 runways on the two major lakebeds, Sergeant Brown said. Air traffic controllers here provide a critical component of maintaining safe operations to all of them.   "The type of missions that Edwards fly here requires us to track aircraft on radar and plot their flight paths to keep them away from each other, away from vehicles and support equipment on the ground and create a positive safe environment," Sergeant Brown said.   The Edwards Control Tower is comprised of 25 people including five civilians.   "One of the benefits of having civilians here is to maintain continuity," said Vincent Ermillio, Air Traffic Control watch supervisor. "Some civilians have been here for years, which provides a good experience base for the newer people."   Having civilian personnel is also important because Air Traffic Control Airmen are sometimes tasked for Air Expeditionary Force deployments, Sergeant Brown said. With experienced civilians remaining at Edwards, the Control Tower is able to send servicemembers to support other missions.   "We just got three Airmen back in the last cycle," Sergeant Brown said. "One went to Kirkuk, (Iraq), one to Balad, (Iraq), and one Airman performed escort duty in Kuwait City."   Deployments may cause a strain on manning during deployments, but the Control Tower still finds ways to support the mission, which always comes first, Mr. Ermillio said.   "We provide sixteen hours of support everyday," Mr. Ermillio said. "However, if a flight test mission requires us to extend our support, we will."   Despite the shorter manning, the Edwards control tower still performs to the highest standards, Sergeant Brown said.   The tower had an Air Traffic System Evaluation Program inspection in January, Sergeant Brown said. The inspections are conducted by Air Force Materiel Command functional experts every two to three years. The inspectors evaluated safety, how well the tower performs daily operations and their overall compliance with standards set by the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.   "The tower performed well in the last inspection, but performed exceptionally this time," Sergeant Brown said. "The personnel here impressed the inspectors with their flexibility and the ability to adapt to situations involving aircraft that are not operational anywhere else. We are still waiting for the official report on the inspection, but we had approximately 97-percent compliance."   The great thing about being an air traffic controller here is seeing the greatest variety of aircraft in the Air Force, Sergeant Brown said.   "Various aircraft can be seen such as the shuttle carrier, the Airborne Laser, unmanned aerial vehicles and F-22A Raptors," Sergeant Brown said. "There is no other base in the world that someone can see this mix of aircraft."

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