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Ellsworth RAPCON facility leads the way with advanced training system

Senior Airman Christopher Daniel, a 28th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) trainer, uses the new ATC cloud-based training system on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 15, 2021.

Senior Airman Christopher Daniel, a 28th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) trainer, uses the new ATC cloud-based training system on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 15, 2021. The ATCloud training system allows trainers to customize the program based around each Airman’s strengths and weaknesses. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Hannah Malone)

Senior Airman Christopher Daniel, a 28th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) trainer, uses the new ATC cloud-based training system at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 15, 2021.

Senior Airman Christopher Daniel, a 28th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) trainer, uses the new ATC cloud-based training system at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 15, 2021. The ATCloud system provides ATC Airmen with training in voice recognition, radar simulations and air traffic phraseology. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Hannah Malone)

Senior Airman Christopher Daniel, a 28th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) trainer, displays the new cloud-based training system in front of the old ATC training simulators at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 15, 2021

Senior Airman Christopher Daniel, a 28th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) trainer, displays the new cloud-based training system in front of the old ATC training simulators at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 15, 2021. The new training system was adopted earlier this year and allows ATC Airmen to train anytime, anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Hannah Malone)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Ellsworth air traffic controllers (ATC) are test-driving a new training system, ATCloud, that allows Airmen to train more often and efficiently.

With the new cloud-based system, ATC Airmen can practice voice recognition and radar simulations in addition to air traffic phraseology -- anytime, anywhere a Wi-Fi connection is available. Training scenarios can be tailored to target each Airman’s skills and weaknesses, maximizing the benefits and saving valuable time.

“We’re providing a level of accessibility to our new Airmen coming in that will allow them to train better and to a higher standard,” said Airman 1st Class James McNider, a 28th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. “They’re going to stay proficient, and when you’re proficient, you’re much more confident.”

Air traffic controllers are charged with continuously monitoring U.S. airspace to ensure the safety of those flying overhead, as well as those on the ground. While the career field provides an important service, retention has been difficult in recent years. In 2018, the career field endured a 20-percent attrition rate in technical school and another 30 percent once the Airmen reached their first duty station.

“Air traffic control historically has always suffered from high elimination rates, low retention and slow upgrade training times,” said Senior Master Sgt. Gary Cozzetti, the 28th OSS Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) chief controller.

ATC Airmen spend 5 months in technical school, followed by up to a year of upgrade training.

Cozzetti and his leadership team realized the “old school methods” of ATC training had become antiquated and were not the best fit for new generations of Airmen. It was determined that a modernization of current ATC training was necessary, and as such, the new cloud-based training system was adopted early this year.

The Ellsworth ATC facility is one of the first in the Air Force to test the new system.

“They’ve gone from the old ways of doing things and are bringing things more into the 21st century,” said Master Sgt. Effie Williams, the 28th OSS ATC training non-commissioned officer in charge. “We all walk around with cell phones and electronic devices, and that’s what this training tool is -- an electronic device that you can take home and continue training outside the facility.”

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