Like their civilian counterparts, Air Force air traffic controllers oversee and direct en route and terminal air traffic using visual, radar, and nonradar means. It's up to them to ensure the safe and orderly flow of air traffic for Air Force aircraft, often under dangerous or extreme conditions, including combat situations.
The Air Force categorizes this job as Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) 1C1X1. The air traffic controller is obviously one of the most important jobs in this branch of the U.S. military, tasked not only with keeping pilots and aircraft safe, but also ensuring safety for Air Force personnel and civilians on the ground.
Role of Air Force Air Traffic Controllers
These airmen learn air traffic control principles and procedures; flight characteristics of aircraft; and international, federal and military air directives. They use aeronautical charts, maps, and publications in their daily work to augment their use of radar and other navigational aids.
They also have a working knowledge of meteorology and are well-versed in the principles of organization, purpose, operation, and management of all types of air traffic control facilities.
For entry into this specialty, completion of high school with courses in English is desirable. The ability to speak English clearly is required in this job, in order to be able to accurately convey instructions and information to pilots.
Qualifying as an Air Force Air Traffic Controller
Recruits who want to pursue this job need a composite score of at least 55 on the general (G) and mechanical (M) Air Force Qualification Areas of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) tests.
Since these airmen will be overseeing flight patterns and other sensitive Air Force information, they need to be able to obtain a secret security clearance from the Department of Defense. This involves a lengthy background check of character and finances; a criminal record or a history of drug abuse may be grounds for denying such a clearance.
Training for Air Force Air Traffic Controllers
Recruits will complete basic training (boot camp) and Airmen's Week, then head to your technical school for 72 days of formal job training. For this specialty, that means the air traffic control operator course at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, which includes learning functions involving actual control of aircraft and supervising or performing air traffic control functions.
Civilian Jobs Similar to Air Force Air Traffic Controller
You'll need to obtain a civilian license, but once you complete your tour of duty in the Air Force, your training as an air traffic controller will prove useful to getting work with the Federal Aviation Administration.
If you've worked in a control tower (as opposed to en route) while you're in the Air Force, you'll have a control tower operator (CTO) license, which is also good for civilian and/or commercial control tower jobs. The CTO license doesn't expire, but you do have to train and be certified for the specific control tower where you'll be working.