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Supervisor of Flying ensures aircraft safety

Maj. Matthew Pommer, 96th Bomb Squadron supervisor of flying, scans along the horizon from the air traffic control tower at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23. The role of a SOF is to inform the operations group commander of scheduled flights and weather conditions, as well as ensure aircrew follow procedures safely. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua)(RELEASED)

Maj. Matthew Pommer, 96th Bomb Squadron supervisor of flying, scans along the horizon from the air traffic control tower at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23. The role of a SOF is to inform the operations group commander of scheduled flights and weather conditions, as well as ensure aircrew follow procedures safely. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua)(RELEASED)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The air traffic control tower, where Airmen manage the aircraft and airspace surrounding the base, is also the seat of a unique position known as the supervisor of flying.

The SOF's role is to inform the 2nd Operations Group commander of any schedule or weather changes, responsible for the safety of on-going B-52H Stratofortress flying operations, and serves as the focal point for command and control of flight operations.

Constant communication with the air traffic controllers, the 2nd Operations Support Squadron and the aircrew about to take-off, enables the SOF to stay informed with up-to-date information to relay to the operations group commander.

"Any flying operations that go on throughout the day are monitored by either myself or whoever is currently in this position," said Maj. Matthew Pommer, 96th Bomb Squadron SOF. "My job is to make sure the 2 OG commander is aware of anything unusual, specifically weather and safety of the aircraft and aircrew. Each morning, I'm briefed by the 26th Operational Weather Squadron of the day's forecast and what to expect. From there I inform the commander of our situation."

The SOF is heavily involved with mission planning and execution. With close communication with ground crews, tower controllers and the aircrew inside the plane, this free flow of information ensures all procedures are followed safely. The SOF acts as a representative of the OG commander and has the authority to direct actions on his behalf to correct or prevent unsafe actions.

"From start to finish the SOF is involved," said Capt. Jonathon Gibson, 20th Bomb Squadron SOF. "Along with assisting in mission planning to the aircraft lifting off, SOFs also have the authority to delay a mission should the need arise; for example, if there are too many birds along the runway or take-off corridor that could impact the aircraft."

Pilots from both the 20th and 96th BS can fill the role of supervisor of flying. Pilots achieve SOF status by attending training courses after being nominated by their squadron commander.

"Nomination letters are sent to the 2 OG commander, and once that is signed, individuals then begin their training," Pommer said. "Training includes attending SOF program orientations, self-study on various subjects such as aircraft operations and hazard reduction, shadowing the current SOF and written tests. Once that is complete, the individual is SOF qualified and is ready to begin supervising."

While the air traffic controllers manage and direct Barksdale's airspace and aircraft, the SOF is there in an advisor role to inform his or her commander whether changes need to be made to scheduled aircraft flights or aircrew need to be swapped out. Without a SOF, safety can become a larger concern for aircrew.

"I have the authority to direct on behalf of the 2 OG commander to correct or prevent unsafe actions," said Pommer. "Without the position of a SOF, operations undertaken by the aircrew could become safety concerns, jeopardizing Barksdale's mission capability."