Trailblazing: 270th ATCS brings new approach to standing up all-weather airfields

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

The 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore., spends two weeks a year practicing its deployed mission, establishing airfields in remote locations.

This year they traveled to Amedee Army Airfield, Calif., in early summer of 2022 to test new capabilities needed for the modern field of battle and for natural disaster response.

It’s all called Agile Combat Employment or ACE. In short it’s the ability to provide flexible support to air operations in a given area and it hasn’t been done before.

 “We actually opened three different airfields at once,” said Chief Master Sgt. John Wyman, the project coordinator for the training. “Opening one airfield creates a vulnerability, so this exercise was designed to take little teams and to setup, remote, rapidly-established all-weather airfields, use them and then quickly break them down again.”

A single airfield in a combat zone is a ripe target he explains, whereas the small temporary airfields provide an element of surprise, denying the adversary a single fixed target.

Initially the 270th Air Traffic Control Airmen set up an airfield at Amedee, but also did the same in Herlong and Susanville, Calif.  From those three airfields, they controlled C-130s from the 192nd Airlift Squadron, Nevada Air National Guard, who landed there as part of their unit’s required training, as well as Civil Air Patrol aircraft.

Between the three airfields, air traffic controllers guided 316 aircraft on approach vectors toward the live airfield, including two Kingsley Field F-15 Eagles. The new airfield also boasted a landing by the largest airframe in the inventory, the C-5 Galaxy. Additionally, more than six tons of cargo were air-dropped on the airfields during the exercise using pallets slung under parachutes.

Wyman explains the scope of this exercise saying, “It involved 12 different airframes from 10 different flying units across three states, four different branches of service, as well as Guard and Reserve and the Civil Air Patrol.”

For the duration of the exercise the Federal Aviation Administration turned over a large piece of airspace to the unit.

“There were some big ‘firsts’ involved with this training,” said Wyman. “We literally took over a 720-square-mile swatch of airspace and controlled it.”

He went on to say that it’s extremely rare for the FAA to do this and that it was only possible because the unit’s drill status Guardsmen controllers are certified FAA controllers when they are not wearing the uniform. 

Reflecting on the training he said there were many highlights. “We conducted the first U.S. Air Force live test of tactical IMC (all-weather air traffic control), we had the highest traffic count yet for a 270th exercise, and we controlled the most diverse environment in our unit history.”

Wyman says this takes to a much more modern and lethal air force, “This increases by an order of magnitude the ability to respond quickly to the needs of our state and our country.”