Keeping a watchful eye over Misawa
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- With a 360-degree view all around him, the 35th Operations Group supervisor of flight stands poised in a control tower, binoculars in one hand and radio in another, ready to assist aircraft at a moment's notice.
A SOF is in charge of maintaining an aircraft's flying integrity by giving up-to-date weather reports, remaining in communications with agencies like Base Operations and the fire department, and also coordinating with air traffic control to ensure a pilot has the lifelines needed to take off and land safely.
"I'm responsible for keeping all general knowledge needed for pilots up to date and readily available," said Capt. Christian Hamilton, 35th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment flight commander and instructor pilot. "I act as the eyes and ears in the tower for daily flying operations."
Starting the day by receiving a brief from the weather flight about the day's status, the SOF will then report to the airfield and speak with Base Ops to check the activity for current flight information.
"After being briefed, I'll head to the tower and get in touch with several agencies, including both the 13th and 14th Fighter Squadrons," Hamilton said. "Having already talked to weather, I'll get a hold of maintenance and Base Ops and come up with a game plan for the day."
The SOF's ultimate tool that assists operations is the SOF mission execution forecast, a constantly updated program provided by the weather flight.
Basing their current and future flight operations for the day on the SOF MEF, Hamilton will relay back to the weather flight and other agencies what he sees real-time through the air traffic control tower.
Having a bird's eye view of the airfield allows the SOF to report the condition of the runway and any sectors that could be under construction, noted Hamilton.
When the SOF receives a call on his ultra-high frequency radio, the potential arises for real danger of in-flight emergencies and the processes that it takes to get a pilot safely on the ground.
"The pilot will contact the SOF and tell him what safety indications they have," said Lt. Col. John McDaniel, 35th Fighter Wing F-16 pilot and special assistant to the commander. "The SOF will then reference a checklist with the pilot to assist them with problems they're encountering."
Working with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's ATC team, Hamilton ensures the aircraft has priority landing, in addition to any sort of emergency vehicles ready and waiting.
"The key is to assist the pilot, but not so much that it becomes interference," noted Hamilton. "It's always good to have a second set of eyes backing you up with what you're experiencing in an aircraft."
With Hamilton being a veteran pilot, the knowledge of being in an aircraft is an invaluable perspective for the SOF position.
"The SOF benefits by being an experienced pilot. He makes decisions affecting millions of dollars of assets," said McDaniel. "It's a critical position with numerous moving parts dealing with weather, airfield status and aircraft emergencies."
Despite the business of flying operations and coordinating with multiple agencies, even the SOF participates in Misawa's quarterly exercises.
During an exercise simulation, pilots might have to be diverted to another airfield or even forced to circle until a suitable solution can be found, explained McDaniel.
"The simulation injects that we receive are intended to be an added stressor, but in no way do we let the exercise interfere with real world operations," said Hamilton. "We still maintain flight integrity and airfield safety even during the training environment of an exercise."
Throughout all of his SOF operations, Hamilton works closely with members of the JASDF team and feels that they are integral to the mission.
"They help me with surveying the airfield and providing assistance with aircraft," Hamilton noted. "We work very closely with them in general to ensure all is safe and well during daily operations."