They man the control tower at all hours, are required to coordinate all of the flights on base, make complex decisions and deal with challenging situations on a daily basis. We joined Sde-Dov AFBs ground controllers for 24 hours

Yael Fuchs

Sde-Dov AFB’s control tower is manned at all hours, every day. The ground controllers are responsible for the aircraft from the moment they leave the line for a mission until they return to it, deal with various fields and have admirable attention division skills. “The work here is intensive and complex, but also the most interesting”, shared Sergeant Inbar Ohana, a ground controller from Sde-Dov AFB. “It takes a lot of training to be able to control all of the stations and the different kinds of aviation”.

Suddenly, a phone rings and interrupts our conversation. Sergeant Inbar picks up and yells to the people sitting on the other side of the room. She hangs up and begins pushing buttons with one hand and writing down departing flight numbers on the board with the other, while listening to the chatter coming in through her headphones, all in order to allow an aircraft prepare for takeoff. “People think that a ground controller’s job amounts to saying goodbye to pilots and picking up calls”, said Lt. Bar Tzalach, Commander of Sde-Dov AFB’s Control Tower. “Our work is very different. In practice, the ground controller is responsible for the aerial routes”.

24 Hours in a Control Tower

Photography: Celia Garion

Only in Sde-Dov
Two squadrons are positioned in Sde-Dov AFB: the “Kings of the Air” and the “First” Squadron. But the Sde-Dov tower doesn’t deal just with military flights, but with civilian flights as well, a combination which creates constant conflict and challenges its ground controllers. “Our work is different and interesting. The base operates many aircraft of various sizes that fly at different speeds”, explains Private Amir Ron, a ground controller. “Every landing and takeoff is a mission in itself because every aircraft is different and they all require a specific set of conditions”.

Private Amit stops for a moment and records data about the weather, in English. “Today is English day”, explained Sergeant Inbar from the adjacent station. “Every Wednesday we practice working in English because we work with civilians from abroad and international flights quite often”.

24 Hours in a Control Tower

Photography: Celia Garion

Your Responsibility
Night falls on Sde-Dov AFB. Lt. Bar calls to one of the controllers and asks him to “hold” the civilian aircraft in the air because a military aircraft is about to return from a training exercise. “There are many conflicts in our work and you need to know how to prioritize the civilian and military aircraft”, she states. “During 2014 Operation ‘Protective Edge’ for example, I had to choose between an aircraft leaving for operational activity and an airliner with 200 passengers from southern Israel”.

Lt. Bar recalls the operations she experienced from the control tower. “We were on ready-alert at all times, because there could have been an attack on Tel-Aviv at any moment”, she recalled. “One night, we were sitting in the tower and a rocket was intercepted right next to us by an ‘Iron Dome’ battery, one of the controllers was alarmed, but she quickly returned to work. We have to supervise at all times – when sitting here, protection of the base’s aircraft and personnel are your responsibility”.

24 Hours in a Control Tower

Photography: Celia Garion