The cab of the Lt. Gen. Leroy J. Manor Air Traffic Control Tower at Destin Executive Airport was several degrees warmer than the break room downstairs.
The sun beat through the shaded windows and lit up the panels of the control room.
Hector Mercado paced the floor, head down, listening to Mike Sweeney’s calls over the radio.
"You have to make a decision, man, and just go with it," Mercado said. "If it doesn’t work, then we learn from it."
Mercado, a Navy veteran, was training Sweeney on communicating with aircraft and with Eglin Air Force Base, whose runway is just 5 miles from the threshold of the Destin airport’s runway.
"I’ve been doing this for 22 years," Mercado said. "I started when I was 18."
Mercado and Sweeney both stand at the control panel during the afternoon rush of Cessnas, Bonanzas, helicopters, and small propeller planes that are either taking off or landing. It was too busy to sit.
"We normally have two people in here from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day," said Air Traffic Manager John Greene.
For a small beach town, Destin’s skies stay bustling, with military, commercial, and private planes sharing the skies with parasailers, helicopters and more.
"From a safety standpoint, this tower makes all the sense in the world. We have eyes on the ground and in the skies to help get folks in and out of here safely," said Okaloosa County Airports Director Tracy Stage.
The tower was completed in January of last year and was named after Lt. Gen. Leroy J. Manor, a retired Air Force general living in Okaloosa County. Manor cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony and launched the first aircraft in the control tower cab.
"He’s an incredible gentleman," Stage said. "He fought in World War II and patrolled the skies over Normandy."
In the near future, Stage said that they are working to bring in a radar feed directly from Eglin’s tower so the Destin control tower will have radar visual capabilities.