PERRY -- Pilots flying into the Perry-Houston County Airport these days might be in for a little surprise, courtesy of the 5th Combat Communications Group at Robins Air Force Base.
Ordinarily such a small community airport would never have air traffic controllers, but the Robins unit, known as the 5th Mob, has been training there one week each month.
The unit sets up a mobile control tower, which is mounted on the back of a Humvee, and for three days airmen provide air traffic control at the airport.
While the low volume doesnt require air traffic control, the airmen get training in setting up remote airfield operations. As a side result, civilian pilots get practice in communicating with a control tower.
Thats actually a pretty big benefit for the pilots, said Billy Jerles, chairman of the airport authority. Many pilots who use the airport rarely, if ever, land at a controlled airport. The 5th Mob gives them a chance to practice the specific terminology they need to use in communicating with a control tower.
Many student pilots train at the airport, and they have to land at a controlled airport before they can get their license. The 5th Mob allows them to meet that requirement.
Its a huge benefit to the student pilots, Jerles said. Just being able to hear and respond is important.
The 5th Mob is a frequently deployed unit at Robins. Its troops are usually the first to arrive in a combat area, and their job is to set up communications ranging from Internet service to air traffic control.
A crew of three controllers and three technicians was doing the training last week at the airport. They bring in everything they need on two Humvees, one with the control tower and another with two generators.
With 72 hours notice, they can be anywhere in the world and have air control operating. Master Sgt. George Brown, a controller, said the best thing about the Perry training is that it gives them practice going to a remote location, setting up the equipment and then tearing it down.
Theyve done the air control part enough that they dont really need that experience, he said, but they still enjoy doing it.
Its a nice benefit to be able to interact with the community pilots, he said.
They go through all of the same steps as if they were at a busy airport, including giving pilots permission to land and take off.
They started doing the training there last year, and at first it was every other month. But it worked out so well they started doing it once a month. Although the operational hours of the tower are limited, the airmen stay with the equipment around the clock while they are there.
Anytime you go somewhere you are going to run into different issues, said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Lossett, a technician. So this gives us a chance to experience different environments.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.