New York Times Gets View of Libya Air War from Aboard an AWACS

Eric Schmitt lands a pretty nifty dateline for his report: "Over the Mediterranean sea"

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Covering the NATO-led military intervention in Libya has enabled The New York Times, among other outlets, to peg some pretty unconventional datelines--that snippet of text before an article explaining where the journalist is reporting/filing from--to their stories. A few days ago, for example, C.J. Chivers reported from aboard a tugboat--the Al Iradah 6--on rebel efforts to smuggle supplies to the beseiged city of Misrata by sea. But Eric Schmitt may be giving Chivers a run for his money. Today's he's reporting from "Over the Mediterranean Sea," in what appears, from a quick Google and Times search, to be the first time a journalist has filed from aboard an AWACS command-and-control plane.

As part of his investigation into the challenges NATO faces in conducting a now-escalated air war with no troops on the ground, Schmitt hops on an AWACS--which he describes as a "windowless military version of a Boeing 707 jet"--during an overnight mission on a stormy Sunday. He recounts how NATO troops on the plane authorized a Mirage 2000 fighter jet to bomb a Libyan warship in the harbor at Sirt, 50 miles off the Libyan coast, and how, 36,000 feet above ground, "the war in Libya unfolds on the 20-inch computer screens of controllers in dark green flight suits." Those controllers see the conflict in ways we rarely get a chance to:

On the screens, the outlines of the Mediterranean and the Libyan coast emerge. Fighters, refuelers, jammers, reconnaissance planes and remotely piloted drones as well as commercial airliners each have different symbols: tiny white circles, yellow rectangles, check marks, dashes, dots of different colors. A mouse click on a symbol reveals the plane’s altitude, speed and other information. On a separate console, a controller can follow hundreds of ships and even trucks driving along the Libyan coast.

Before you send in a job application to the Times, you might want to check out this 3-D tour of the AWACS flight deck that NATO offers on its website. Turns out you can get a sense of the plane without ever leaving your computer.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.