“I’m the best control tower operator here,” boasted Kevin Ford, to which Dave Moore derisively snorted, and that led to further claims who indeed was the better of the two.
Yet to hear Moore and Ford banter, making fun of one another, all in warmth and good humor, one would tend to believe the two are lifelong friends, not two who have only known each other since Jan. 1, when Ford become the second air traffic control specialist at Bartow Municipal Airport. And although Ford is the junior member, Moore has only been the senior control tower operator since April 2013.
Moore said that level of camaraderie is a rarity.
“You don’t find that in many towers,” he said. “Usually there’s at least one person who’s cantankerous.”
However, the light, easy-going manner each carries toward the other does not detract from the seriousness of their responsibilities. In fact, the joshing each of them engages in serves a purpose.
“You’ve got to have that confidence,” said Moore.
The addition of the two is also part of a recent series of events involving the control tower and its operations. Built in the 1940s, the tower had fallen into a serious state of disrepair.
“I would start to climb the stairs and every day I would find nuts and bolts lying on the ground,” Moore said. He also noted a number of steps were rusted. It was making for a difficult climb, especially so in less than ideal weather.
Even though the major work, which began September 2013 and finished January 2014, was completed, there still are things needed or that would be nice to have, such as new shades to filter out ultraviolet rays and improve visibility and modern equipment, including a portable light gun to use when verbal contact with a pilot is not possible. There is also another piece of equipment that would come in very handy.
“We have no radar up here,” said Moore.
“Radar helps,” added Ford.
Each agreed that many smaller airports do not have radar because the cost runs in the millions of dollars. Still, it would be nice. In the meantime, both Moore and Ford have to rely upon communication between them and pilots. It is not always accurate.
“We base our control on what the pilot tells us,” said Moore.
“Sometimes they give us wrong direction reports,” Ford said. “We depend on pilots, so when they’re wrong, we have to adapt. All we can do is look out these windows.”
The control tower provides a 360-degree view, and from 75 feet from ground to the floor of the tower, the view ranges between 10-15 miles depending upon weather conditions, such as rain and haze.
On quiet days this is not too much of a challenge, but like regular traffic, air traffic differs one day to the next. It is usually heavy on certain days and certain conditions.
“When the weather is beautiful, it’s our busiest days,” said Ford.
“Last Sunday there were 200 operations,” added Moore.
Both attest that an airport with a control tower is superior to one without; Bartow and Lakeland Linder are the only two in Polk County with towers. Winter Haven and Lake Wales do not have. There are advantages.
“It becomes what we call controlled air space,” said Moore. “Without a control tower, the only control is with the pilot.”
He added that in order for pilots to safely navigate airports without a control tower they have to rely upon a particularly frequency in order to communicate with other pilots in the area, or if there is someone on the ground with whom they can speak and who can give instructions. Hence the advantage of having a control tower.
“At the very least, it’s visibility,” said Ford. “You need to know where the other planes are.”
For a good portion of 2013, the control tower was not in service. The air traffic controller in charge prior to Moore coming on board could no longer navigate the stairs, having knee problems. Then there was the repairs and refurbishing to the tower at the end of 2013.
Moore knew what it was like to have to be on the ground during the last three months of that year. An on-ground station was loaned from Melbourne, and while it was of service, it had some issues. Possibly during transportation the top panel became loose, so water leaked in whenever it rained. It ultimately required a tarp being placed. While that partially helped, it also kept the ground station somewhat uncomfortable on especially hot days as the station did not have air conditioning.
“It was like having a huge magnifying glass,” he said of before the tarp was placed. But the tarp did cause some drawbacks. “Occasionally I went outside to see what was going on. It was pretty interesting working that.” Moore was extremely glad when the tower was back up and running.
Both Moore and Ford began their careers in air traffic safety in 1978, while each served in the military. Moore was with the U.S. Navy and Ford with the U.S. Air Force. Both served at other airbases before arriving in Bartow. Each is certified by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).
With the exception of Wednesdays, in which both men are in the tower for a limited time, each is on three days alone, from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., 10 hours per day, the maximum time the FAA permits.
Until Ford came on board, the tower only operated Monday-Friday. Now that it is a seven-day operation, both Moore and Ford are glad, as are people who use the airport, which a number of aircraft use, from single prop engine to corporate jets. The traffic has increased, especially with the opening of Streamsong, the luxury resort located in southeast Polk County near Fort Meade.
Bartow Municipal Airport was formerly a military air base created following the (Dec. 7, 1941) raid on Pearl Harbor. It was used to train pilots with the U.S. Army-Air Force. At the conclusion of the war it was decommissioned. However, the federal government took it back in 1950 and again used it for training pilots. It was returned to the City of Bartow in 1961. While still belonging to the government, future astronaut Buzz Aldrin — the second person to walk on the moon — trained in Bartow
It is believed the current tower was constructed in the 1940s, possibly 1942, speculated Cynthia Barrow, the executive director for the Bartow Municipal Airport and Industrial Park. However, she would not rule out the possibility it might be a replacement structure as where it currently is situated is not where it originally was during World War II.
It took several years to get approval and funds to repair the tower, which was closed for almost a year, due to deterioration and disability of its then air traffic controller. Once approval was given, the cost was $112,79.85, of which $90,559.37 came from the Florida Department of Transportation in an 80-20 grant. The remainder, $22,559.37, came from the City of Bartow Airport Authority.
The tower is a non-federal contract tower. That means it receives funding from the U.S. government. During the congressional sequester in 2013, that means operation at the tower was not interrupted, unlike other towers that were shuttered due to a lack of funds.