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     Tactical ATC

Tactical ATC on Salisbury Plain

Within the many services of the RAF there is a small Tactical Air Traffic Control unit responsible for initiating and setting up of tactical landing areas out in the field of operations. In places like Forward Operating Bases (FOB) providing them with the capability of being able to accept transports to land, off load or stage through. This small unit of specialist ATCís come under the control of Hercules Force Headquarters (HFHQ). Originally the team came under the banner of Tactical Communications Wing which recently moved to Leeming from Brize Norton but the HFHQ team remained at Brize. The reason behind the team staying behind at Brize Norton was due to the fact that they work closely with the Hercules squadrons at Lyneham, and because of the impending closure of Lynham, all Lynehamís assets are expected to transfer to Brize Norton in the near future, so rather than moving twice the unit has remained here.



The concept for the unit began when a team was assembled during the Falklands conflict and assigned the task of setting up and operating landing areas on the damaged airfields of the islands. From these beginnings they have travelled the globe applying their trade in peacetime and in conflict one of the more recent being the base at Camp Bastion. This started out as a TLZ but is now an operational airfield with all the appropriate accompanying attributes, of a tower, fire cover and radar. 


Taxing the aircraft back is also necessary training for the aircrew as the uneven surface can catch the unsuspecting crew with sudden bumps and weight shift


Final wind check with hand held Anemometer


Over the years the members of HFHQ have trained up numerous personnel in the role of Tactical Landing Zone Officer (TLZO) many of these from a various Army units. Now with the ongoing commitments of the NATO forces within Afghanistan, the units teaching skills are again very much in demand. This time by NATO Air Forces because of the growing requirement to spread the load missions among the other nations involved, this inevitably meant that these nations take control of all aspects of operations too. A programme for training NATO forces is now in the process of being implemented.


Testing the soil with the Cone Penetrometer

Normally working in pairs the Controllers can setup a landing zone within a couple of hours, carrying all they need in a couple of backpacks. The set up begins with an assessment of the ground and the best direction for the landing strip, after which a methodical inspection is made by painstakingly walking the site and testing the ground with a Ground Soil Assessment Cone Penetrometer. This piece of equipment measures how compact the soil is and whether or not it can withstand the weight of an aircraft on it. Next begins the installation of the visual markers of which six are used. In day light, fluorescent / day glo Panels are used. In the dark Tactical Aircraft Lighting (TALS) would be used, these can be set into various modes utilising white light or infrared. To install the markers first a marker is placed in at one end of the field and used as a reference then with aid of a hand held theodolite a straight line can be struck and another marker placed at the opposite end of the field. The width of the landing strip is paced out and marked at both ends of the strip, once these are checked with the theodolite to see if both edges of the strip are parallel. A box shape is created using the remaining two markers at the threshold end of the strip. Itís within this box that the landing aircraft must touch down.


When these tasks are undertaken in a training scenario or exercise the TLZOís would be accompanied by a Medical team and a full Fire Crew who remain on standby for the duration. The Tac ATC team are also called upon to help with a number of summer air shows that are staged away from an airfield, in the country or at the seaside in places like Dawlish and Windermere, where they provide air traffic cover in the area during the show. The team now face a packed program for the future which will inevitably mean a lot of travel in the execution of their unique branch of Air Traffic Control.


Crew signals a job well done to the Tac ATC