Relief efforts in Haiti have been supported by the Pentagon and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), providing both intelligence assets and the infrastructure required to safely operate supply-laden cargo aircraft into Port-au-Prince International Airport and around the small and poor earthquake-devastated nation.

The FAA dispatched a portable, temporary control tower to Haiti to help assist with aircraft operations at Port-au-Prince International. The tower was transported aboard a large, chartered cargo aircraft. FAA technicians installed and prepared it for service.

The portable tower is 44 feet long, 13 feet high and eight feet wide, and weighs about 25,000 pounds. It comes with two diesel-powered generators and supporting fuel tanks, plus tools and other support equipment for installation and maintenance. The FAA uses this tower and others like it to support airports where existing towers are out of service after a disaster, like a major hurricane.

Controllers providing terminal air traffic control services have worked outside at a folding table, using military radios to handle about 160 flights a day. The airport’s control tower was rendered unusable by the devastating earthquake that struck on January 12.

Before the 7.0 earthquake devastated the island, normal air traffic was 14 flights a day. The small airport is now handling well over 160 landings a day with aircraft coming in every five minutes. The terminal building, while still standing, has cracks all through it and cannot be used.

Tower controllers provide service to arriving and departing flights in the immediate area of the airport and serve as ground controllers for movements on the airport surface.

Besides air traffic employees, the FAA has an airports division team on the ground to inspect and evaluate the physical condition of the runway as it handles a high volume of heavy military transport and cargo aircraft. The FAA pavement team is supplemented by a USAF airfield pavement evaluation team.

Evaluations involve coring a hole in the pavement, testing the strength of the soil underneath and collecting samples. Each sample is classified according to its engineering properties and how it reacts during the tests.

A dozen civil engineers make up the USAF’s three airfield pavement evaluation teams and are on the road an average four to six months a year to meet the needs of Air Force commanders and combatant commanders around the world by evaluating the strength, performance and condition of permanent and contingency airfields to ensure that flight operations can be conducted safely.

A U.S. military Joint Task Force, operating under U.S. Transportation Command, has been responsible for operations on the airport’s ramp since arriving in-country.

The task force includes the Air Force’s 621st Contingency Response Group, from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ, and the Army’s 688th Transportation Detachment for rapid port opening from Fort Eustis, VA.

The disaster in Haiti marks the first time "the whole enchilada" has been used in an operation, said USAF Col. Patrick Hollrah, the task force commander.

The unit was the second one on the ground after the Air Force Special Operations Command team. "[The special operations team] brought a special tactics team with them that was restoring order and starting to control the airflow in," Hollrah said. "There were literally airplanes parked everywhere. The biggest challenge was the volume of air traffic, volume of vehicles and the volume of people on an airport ramp," he said. "Anywhere else, a ramp is a restricted area. Not here."

Until the airport and air traffic control infrastructure was set up, USAF combat controllers kept tabs on the safety of air operations. USAF Staff Sgt. Joshua Craig, a combat controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, FL, said "We came in, we set up an airfield in an austere environment, and immediately after 20 minutes we started bringing in aircraft and aid to Haiti."

Language was a problem, said Sergeant Craig. "We have pilots from all over the world trying to talk and we’re trying to use the same phraseology, air traffic control phraseology, but sometimes it’s hard to understand pilots from different nations."

Another difficulty is the limited physical space to park aircraft at an airport that was never designed to handle more than 100 aircraft per day. "We get birds in with types that we’ve never heard of so we have to ask them, ‘what’s your wingspan, what kind of a bird are you, how fast are you,’" he said.

Early on, the USAF Northrop Grumman Global Hawk high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial system was used to survey the devastated nation. The Global Hawk flew nearly 24 hours over a two day period, providing about 2,000 images of some 1,000 targets, key infrastructure such as airstrips, bridges and ports throughout the country.

The Global Hawk had been slated to go to Afghanistan, but was diverted to help out in Haiti. The Global Hawk was flown from its home station at Beale AFB, CA. It refueled at the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, before arriving in Haiti.

Meanwhile, a manned USAF Lockheed Martin U-2 spy plane launched from Beale AFB Jan. 27 to provide critical imagery support in the ongoing humanitarian relief mission in Haiti.

The aircraft, temporarily flown out of Robins AFB, GA., was used to gather high-quality imagery, broad area shots, which will eliminate the need to patch together smaller images gathered by other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets currently operating in the Haiti.

Routinely flown at altitudes nearing 70,000 feet, the U-2 is a single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude, ISR aircraft, which provides signals, imagery and electronic measurements and signature intelligence. The U-2 is capable of gathering a variety of imagery that can be stored or sent to ground exploitation centers.

And fifty airmen from the 432nd Wing, along with RQ-1 Predator assets, deployed to assist in Haiti.