MIAMI – As jumbo jets roar around it, the Miami air traffic control tower stands sentinel.
The 25-story monolith, which acts as guardian to Miami International Airport, was commissioned in 2002, but there were plenty of others that came before it, dating back to Tower 1, which was built in 1941.
The airport itself is 88 years old, so what did the tower do before air traffic control?
"The biggest concern were cows on the runways and getting them out of the way of propellers, so that is how far we have come now to the very sophisticated equipment we see now in the tower," MIA spokesman Greg Chin said.
The current tower is the airport's 10th to loom over aviation operations.
Plenty of dignitaries were on hand Friday to celebrate the Federal Aviation Administration's 75th anniversary of air traffic control at MIA. Local 10 News was invited inside the tower for a rare tour, including a chance to walk the catwalk.
"It is a beautiful view," Chin said. "Unfortunately, only you guys can get up here today, but it is off limits for the most part. But it is a fantastic view, yes, absolutely."
Inside the tower, casually dressed controllers calmly do their jobs, standing up for eight hours. They are not allowed to have cellphones with them.
The employees are responsible for all aircraft within 5 miles of the facility. On a yearly basis, they handle more than 400,000 aircraft.
Controllers still use a time-tested method to keep track of flights called a flight progress strip, but the array of state-of-the-art equipment and electronics at their fingertips is impressive.
"These guys are excellent, and our hat's off to them and all the work they do," Chin said. "It is very unsung and behind the scenes, but we know that without them, planes don't take off and land here."