Titus Gall is, in his own words, fortunate and continually grateful for his lot in life. Born in Holland to Dutch parents and immigrating to the United States as a toddler, Titus grew up in a family of 12 children. Gall traces the success of his business, Tower Tech Inc., to the opportunities granted to him to chase the American dream back to his family upbringing and his military service.
After receiving a draft notice in 1969, Gall willingly enlisted in the Navy. Thanks to aptitude testing, now known as the ASVAB test, Gall was selected to train as an air traffic controller for the Navy, which would see him assigned aboard an aircraft carrier for two and a half years of the Vietnam war. After returning stateside, he was posted to NAS Lemoore in California, later transitioning to a civilian contract position at the same base upon leaving the Navy.
Unbeknown to Gall at the time, his role in the Navy and then as a civilian contractor would provide the next step in his career. The air traffic controller strike of the 1980s provided him with the chance to transition to working as a civilian controller for the FAA. A position that would become a 21-year career with the FAA before embarking on the unique business that has now become a well-known fixture on firegrounds in the western states, Tower Tech Inc.
The company first began operations in 2004 after Gall retired from the FAA with a total of 32 years as an air traffic controller with his military and DOD service. Gall noticed an unfulfilled need for air traffic control in both the civilian and military worlds where he had previously worked and decided to try and fill that gap.
Tower Tech started with just himself and one other controller, a lifelong friend, with a single trailer that functions as a fully equipped control tower in 2004. The business grew through word of mouth around the state of California. Now servicing California, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada, providing air traffic control for everything from private fly-in events to airshows, aerial firefighting and military training events. The company now employs 17 air traffic controllers, all retired FAA-certified controllers with a combined experience that equates to hundreds of years of federal service that can deploy several controllers and one of three mobile air traffic control tower units anywhere within their service area within 24 hours.
Although most of Tower Tech’s business comes from the United States Forest Service and CalFire through long standing call when needed contracts, they also work for various branches of the United States and British Military; the company’s work does not stop there.
“Right now, we are talking to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, for a temporary tower and starting at the end of June until the end of September, just for summer traffic. So there are all sorts of reasons why these entities call us for air traffic control service. We just booked six days in Thermal, California, for a Cessna Citation convention where they expect 100 airplanes. We have multiple letters of agreement with FAA facilities up and down the West Coast, including Northern California TRACON, Southern California TRACON, Salt Lake City tower, Oakland Center, LA Center, all of the major FAA players up and down the west coast.” Gall stated.
Building the Towers
Building his first and subsequent trailers is a task that Gall says is still ongoing, as with each new build, there are always small changes made from lessons learned from previous ones. The first taking place in 2004, after Gall submitted plans to three custom trailer building companies. The ultimate winner of the contract to build the trailers being TPD Custom Trailers based in Sacramento, California. Gall speaks highly of his ongoing relationship with TPD owner Victor Takahara and for the build quality of the trailers that are a mix of steel and voidless plywood coated with a fiberglass composite.
Each trailer weighs approximately 17,000lbs, towed by a Ford F-350 dually diesel truck. Each trailer features a fully functional control tower with at least six radios to monitor various approach, ground and air to air frequencies, with an ADSB receiver and weather station equipment that allows the tower to provide timely and accurate information to aircraft. Also included are multiple iPad’s that stream aircraft movement in real time. All of the trailers have internet and phone capabilities. One of the company’s trailers is fitted with satellite internet capability for use in extremely remote areas. Each trailer has two 12,500 Onan Ultra Quiet diesel generators onboard. Only one is used at a time , the other is a standby. The trailers carry 100 gallons of diesel fuel capable of keeping the generators powering all equipment on board for 7-10 days without the need to source additional fuel or power sources.
Due to the remoteness of some locations, the company is tasked with designing each trailer to function autonomously. That included providing air traffic control capabilities and the ability for controllers assigned to have living quarters on board. Each trailer will also sleep two controllers comfortably with onboard lavatories and stand-up showers in addition to cooking facilities and HD television.
Expanding the Fleet
The first trailer for Tower Tech was completed in 2004 and served as the lone asset for the company for four years. Gall stated that the company has been autonomous since its inception and has never needed to rely on debt to expand. After the first trailer was paid for and enough work had been completed, the company purchased another trailer, adding the third several years later, all paid for out of company earnings. The company now has six trailers total. Three additional trailers are used to support the tower operations when necessary with additional equipment. The company is now looking to expand further in the future, potentially adding a new control tower by the end of 2021.
While there are 17 available controllers in the pool for Tower Tech, Gall states that nothing is a full-time role for the controllers, who each have earned a retirement from the FAA. “I hope that working for Tower Tech as a controller proves to be more of a continuation of a satisfying career rather than just work.They do it because the FAA lets you go at 56, and some folks just aren’t ready to give it all up. They’re looking for a way to continue controlling airplanes and doing meaningful work.. Working for my company is designed more for the person eyeing that new 85” TV, they go out and work for a couple of weeks with us during the summer, and they can start looking for the wallspace to hang their new TV”.
Taking Care of People
Gall is quite humble when talking about the business growth and having essentially invented a business that no one ever knew they needed – until they did. But for Gall, it all comes down to his employees. He credits them with the company’s success, and he tries to express that he would never be where he is without the support of his people that are out working on a fire line or in a control tower for an air show.
Paying each controller a day rate of $500 a day, Tower Tech also picks up the tab for everything else, from airfares to accommodation, right down to the food that staff eats while away from home. “Working and doing what we do can often take people away from their families, so we try to make that time as comfortable as possible. If they want to eat steak every day while working for me, then so be it. I buy their steak.” said Gall. Watching for exhaustion is also a focus for the company, which only allows controllers to work a total of 14 consecutive days in a tower before requiring them to go home for a break. If the assignment lasts longer than the two weeks, relief crews are sent in and the rotation begins.
“I place a lot of importance on taking care of my folks. You’ve got to take care of them, they take care of Tower tech! They are the backbone of the whole business, and I’m very, very blessed to have the people that I have.”
At 72, Gall has realized that the time is fast approaching that he needs to take a back seat to spend some quality time with his wife Lisa, who has supported his business efforts from the beginning. Gall hired an operations manager, RT Martin, eight years ago who has since been promoted to COO. RT does a great job helping with the day-to-day operation of the business. The company’s new CEO, Aaron Moore is now handling many of the responsibilities originally completed by him so he and his wife can start checking off ‘bucket list’ items and enjoying life more.
Part of that new role is moving the rolling assets of the company to Tehachapi near Bakersfield, California. Equipment will soon be stored in a new 60’x80′ building sitting in close proximity of the homes of the COO and CEO, making their jobs a little easier when moving or rolling out equipment when needed compared to where the equipment is currently located near Sacramento.
For Gall, his satisfaction in the job now rests with repeat work and arriving on a site where they have been multiple times and the familiarity that goes along with meeting up with people they have worked with for many years. “Some who will knock on a tower door at 7 am with donuts, just happy to see us back,” says Gall, who states that for him, that is not work, that’s the fun part of the job, which he tries to impress upon his other controllers.
While ATC services can be stressful, he encourages his staff to have fun and enjoy it because working in a cramped environment daily can lead to stress, which Gall tries to avoid—over the years, hiring a staff that all work incredibly well together and that are reliable. At times, crews have less than 24 hours to get on-site to a new location that could be a place they have been many times or could be a recently mowed section of leased land where 25 helicopters have been sent to fight a fire in a remote area.
Diversity of location, a fun environment, and nothing the same from day to day have kept Titus Gall going since the business’s inception in 2004. As the company continues to grow, even as he takes a back seat to Tower Tech’s day-to-day operations, Gall will never be far away. He retains full ownership of the business and still driving its continual success and needed expansion as demand for their services steadily increases around the country. Titus Gall has indeed fulfilled what many would call the American dream with Tower Tech, Inc..