By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Although the 21st Space Wing doesn’t own aircraft, it doesn’t mean the Airmen assigned to the airfield management flight are not busy.
Being stationed at one of the Department of Defense’s busiest airfields for distinguished visitors keeps Airmen like Senior Airman Jason Turton, 21st Operations Support Squadron airfield management operations shift lead, busy and satisfied as they put their training into action on a regular basis.
Managing, planning, and puzzling out the best and safest way to bring transient or scheduled aircraft onto the Peterson flight line is what Turton enjoys. Whether it is a distinguished visitor, or a military aircraft that has to land at a secure facility, he is there to make it happen.
“It was fortunate I got into this career field,” Turton said. “There is something about what you need to do to make the whole system work smoothly that really appeals to me.”
What Turton does is assure aircraft and crew are cared for once they land. They transfer the crew to get food, if needed, coordinate offloading the aircraft and other logistic concerns.
“We make sure the aircrew has everything they need when they hit the ground. If we can be proactive, we can minimize delays and headaches,” he said.
He finds his work satisfying, drawing a sense of accomplishment from knowing his role is an important one. He takes the responsibility of making every mission go smoothly and safely. Turton said he likes the challenge of taking care of the airfield, and making it safe and user friendly for the millions of dollars’ worth of aircraft visiting Peterson on a regular basis.
His interest level in managing the base’s airfield increases when factoring in that the U.S. Air Force is not the only organization his team services. Various countries like Canada, Mexico, India, and others use the base too.
“It requires global coordination because we are working with our mission partners and the Pentagon,” Turton said.
According to the the 21st OSS, more than 2,200 DVs visited Peterson during the last three years, among them are three presidential visits.
Additionally, he said Colorado Springs is a premier high altitude training area, making Peterson a frequently planned stop for various aircraft.
Managing the flight line is more than sitting behind a desk and coordinating aircraft care and logistics between different entities. It can quickly become physical.
During a U.S. Marine Corps exercise last year, when Marines camped out in tents near the flight line on Peterson, the wind gusted to about 70 miles per hour, dislodging a tent.
“The tent was hanging over the fence about to blow off and fly into the (V-22) Ospreys or even the airfield,” Turton said. “We had to go out with the Marines and tie it to the fence in the cold, the rain and the wind.”
Beside such physical aspects of his job, he must clearly communicate airfield concerns that may not be familiar territory for space-focused leaders. For example, explaining why an aircraft can’t park facing a certain direction when wind speeds are high, meaning exit doors are not facing the red carpet for DVs, can be challenging.
“We have to consider aircraft safety,” he said. “We do a lot of advocating for the aircraft.”
Turton’s intentions upon joining the Air Force was to become an officer. The Radford University graduate decided to enlist to get his foot in the door. He was also recently accepted to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Master’s Degree program for airport management and begins classes in September.
He developed an airfield innovation project that will make the work of flight planning easier for flight crews and save money for the Air Force. The crews are issued iPads with all the documents needed to plan their flight paths and Turton noticed them huddling around the relatively small devices to accomplish the task.
“I thought, ‘OK, I can do this better,’” he said.
He paired a 42-inch touchscreen with everything the iPads have on them, so now crews can avoid cramming together and straining to see the smaller screens. The idea is not only beneficial in his career field, but he said it will improve the way flight squadrons do their planning. The idea is being used at Peterson, showcased as a proof of concept for possible wider dissemination.
“It’s a much nicer way of doing what we are already doing with the added benefit of saving money in the long run,” said Turton.
He still plans to become an officer, but in the meantime, Turton is demonstrating resilience and leadership in the area of airfield management on a base that is primarily focused on space as its mission.