AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL - BEHIND THE MIKE

A look back at my 45 years in Australian ATC through candid pictures along the way


My two-year ATC training course began in Melbourne in September 1967 with the Department of Civil Aviation.
Classroom and simulator training were in Melbourne, with field attachments to Essendon, Adelaide, Perth and Tamworth.
Here I am as a fresh-faced youth in Perth Tower during June 1968, training under the patient guidance of Greg Blackshaw.

  Radar had not yet been installed at Perth, so I was fortunate to receive excellent training in Procedural (non-radar) separation procedures.


At that time the Long-Term (no prior aviation experience) ATC training course included airline attachments for cockpit familiarisation,
to appreciate the effects of ATC
procedures and instructions
on pilots. My photo is from the cockpit jump-seat of an Ansett-ANA Boeing 727
on landing approach to
Runway 14R at Port Moresby, on the daily direct service from Sydney. Being an aviation enthusiast, I bid mostly for
the older types and enjoyed many cockpit flights and overnight stops with friendy crews of Ansett-ANA Viscounts, Electras and Carvairs.
An additional two weeks on Airlines of NSW F.27 Friendships was to experience outback NSW
operations, outside controlled airspace  


My "Alma Mater": the second Perth Control Tower, part of airport improvements for the 1962 Commonwealth Games. I graduated from the
ATC training course in Adelaide in 1969 but was promptly transferred to Perth ATC. Over the next 20 years I worked many day and solo
night shifts in this Tower, while rotating between other Perth ATC positions.                    
Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society
              


In 1970 the new syle standard Tower console was installed. Perth's was modified to allow a 3 bay Area Control strip display in the centre.
There were now three positions, each with their own VHF frequencies: left SMC/Clearance Delivery, centre ACC, right APP/ADC.
I took this photo of
Chris Hall on Area Control (CTA outside 30NM Perth) and Cliff Bolton behind on Approach/Aerodrome Control.


Handover-takeover time: at the end of my APP/ADC shift with trainee John Macaleer (right) who is holding the new style Ericafon
microphones which came with the new console
. I'm handing over to Dave Richards, the oncoming Evening shift APP/ADC. Until the
mid 1970s, Approach was
Procedural control, Radar assistance requested only for complex sequences when aircraft would be delayed.


Who was to know? Jane Wilson on Tower Coordinator position during 1975. We married in 1980.


Perth Tower's outside balcony was a perfect spot for aircraft photography. Here fellow aviation enthusiast friends Mike Austin,
John Chapman and
Stuart Bremner enjoy a coffee served in the Tower Coffee Club's finest china.


ATC Radar was introduced to Perth in 1970. The Route Surveillance Radar sensor was constructed at Kalamunda, a high point in the
hills east of the city. With no suitable facility at Perth Airport, a short-term solution was to install ATC radar consoles inside the
Kalamunda maintenance building.
My photo shows Christmas Day post-shift refreshments on the lawn at Kalamunda: from left
Chris Avenell, Dorena Paganetti, Wayne Troedson and duty radar technician Colin Hayes.


During 1972 Area Control moved from the Tower to a newly-established Area Control Centre in an upstairs room in the terminal building.
This allowed high level CTA to expand to the north to handle increasing jet traffic between the new iron ore mining towns.
Radar separation (within 150NM Perth) was still an intercom call to Kalamunda. Tony Fowler (left) on Arrivals, Lance Harrison on Area.


Jandakot Airport, 10 miles south of Perth Airport is Perth's General Aviation airfield. During the early 1970s Jandakot was Australia's
second busiest airport, behind Bankstown.
Perth controllers rotated through Jandakot Tower and my first Perth ratings were there in 1969.
With only two sealed runways, we ran tight circuits with a mix of training and IFR charter flights to Secondary Aerodrome Procedures.
I remember the professional offence we took at a Head Office instruction which limited us to only 8 aircraft in a circuit.


Jandakot Tower 1977: from left John Bitmead, Frank Trees, Marty Kain and Supervisor ATC Mike Cosgrave.
Aircraft VHF radio transmissions were on console speakers, our telephone-style handsets had Press to Talk buttons to transmit.


Long-time Jandakot Supervisor ATC Mike Cosgrave enjoys his birthday cake and gift from his troops in May 1977


Almost the complete roster of Perth controllers gathered together in this 1980 social event.


Operating "Temporary Control Towers" for country airshows and royal tours was a pleasant diversion from Perth ATC H24 rosters.
My first experience was at Kalgoorlie, flown out in the DCA Bonanza to a basic tower setup on a wooden platform high in the VHF masts.

The above picture at Firzroy Crossing WA in 1972, a 4 hour flight north from Perth by DCA turboprop Merlin, for a Royal tour.
Norm Kerr and I plus two DCA radio technicians were dropped off to set up on the truck, positioned on a high outcrop on the airfield.

Those were the cringeworthy days when royal aircraft received total Priority and Double Separation Standards.


The RAAF HS.748 callsign "Royal Purple One" carrying Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon lands in the 46C heat of Fitzroy Crossing.
RAAF support Caribous and charter aircraft with press and TV were held clear until the royal party disembarked. Their visit was to
spend a day with a former Grenadier Guardsman friend, who now managed a nearby Kimberley cattle station.
The HS.748 Captain kindly brought spare meal trays and cold drinks up to our tower, which was very appreciated.



We were left at Fitzroy Crossing four four days to fit with the Merlin's schedule. The two resident school teachers were pleased to see
new faces in town and took us to their swimming spot, where they casually threw rocks at the crocodiles while we had
a swim.


Back in Perth ATC, 1981 brought the next change when the Area Control function moved from the airport terminal to Kalamunda Radar,
 to form an interim Area Approach Control Centre (AACC). However our radar consoles were Cossor raw displays requiring a very dark
room,
so the Procedural strip displays and maps were lit by pinpoint lighting. I'm on Approach and Lance Harrison is Arrivals.
Perth Tower now became only an Aerodrome Control function, all controlled airspace owned by Kalamunda.



Full house at Kalamunda AACC. Jane took this photo with a flash during shift handover in 1982: from left John Janic, Wayne Troedson,
Brian Willis (SAAC), Peter Roach, GG, Lance Harrison and Chris Avenell having his hair platted by Flight Data Dorena Paganetti.

(Two years later the purpose-built AACC building at Perth Airport was completed and we moved to the luxury of a new spacious centre,
white carpet and bright display ATCARDS radar consoles which allowed bright lighting - we could even see trees through the windows!`)


Last drinks and pizza in the cleared-out Kalamunda Radar ATC room with its blue walls. Thanks Jim Blood for the picture .


A familiar view for all 1980s Perth Tower night shift controllers, the Ansett maintenance hangar row at 3am.
Perth did not have a night noise curfew, so International and domestic airline flights operated throughout the night.


View at dawn from the Tower of the Perth domestic terminal, February 1987. The early airliner departures are being prepared, while
the solo Tower night shift controller would be
compiling his handover documents for the oncoming morning shift at 6am.



The old and the new. In 1987 this DC-3 was used for sightseeing tours over the 1987 Americas Cup yacht races off Fremantle.
A new International Terminal had been constructed on the eastern side of the airport - and this new highrise Control Tower.

We moved to the new Perth Tower that year. It was definitely state of the art, but no more aircraft noise and Avtur smell, not so good
when
winter ground fogs rolled in and we were "Visual on Top".  No more trudging up stairs, there was an fast elevator to the cab.


In 1990 I was transferred to tropical Cairns as part of their transition to radar control in a new ATC centre at the base of a new Tower.
Cairns controllers in the old Tower were handling impressive traffic numbers using non-radar procedural control. For the first time I learnt the
reason for the "5 DME-no-closing" separation standard.
ATC Radar was being installed and in 1992 we moved into the new centre and
Tower
(top right of picture) using AUSCATS radar display.                          Photo thanks to Civil Aviation Historical Society

 
Our new Cairns Centre 1992: from left Approach (Dave Robinson), Coordinator/Clearance delivery (Bevan Bruce) and
Arrivals (Tony Sanders),
with a nice tropical sunset through the window. The duty Senior Area Controller acted as Flow Director.


There were a lot of Twin Otters at Cairns. Dave Robinson on Approach liked to "flog the Otter", giving best speed descents to land ahead of
inbound jets rather than be delayed by wake turbulence if they followed. Here he ponders the usual "It'll never work" response from ARR.



The new Cairns Tower above the radar centre in 1992: Dave Burrage (closest) on Ground Control, Peter Faulkiner on Aerodrome Control (ADC).
Coordination and aircraft hand-offs between ADC and APP downstairs was by Hotline, call-answer intercom for other units. Selector buttons
control runway, taxiway, approach lighting intensities and monitor servicability of navigation aids (VOR, ILS etc)
and VHF radio frequencies.


From tropical Cairns to a freezing Paris in winter 1995. I was with a team of Australian ATCs and technicans sent to the French contractor's
training college
at Jouy-en-Josas near Paris to learn about a new ATC system "TAAATS" Eurocat 2000, for which Australia was the
launch customer.
The live-in training college was in a rural setting. This was the main street of the nearby village, a short evening stroll away.


The mandatory Paris tourist coffee at a Champs-Elysees restaurant, close to the Arc de Triomphe.
Damien Spain (MEL), Peter Thomas (ADL), Bob Rogers (CNS), Warren Beeston (BNE), Radar Tech Bob (BNE) and our unimpressed waiter
.


Training was followed by a visit to the Airbus pilot training college at Toulouse, to see their advanced Computer Based Training (CBT) in action.
Tolouse happened to be close to French snowfields, where we spent a day before visiting Eurocontrol at Maastricht, Netherlands.

Back in Australia over the following 4 years our team created the TAAATS training program: CBT, classroom and Simulator sessions.


TAAATS system testing with 10 connected consoles was carried out over three years in the French contractor's Melbourne city building.
Being Cairns based, I travelled frequently to Melbourne Sydney and Brisbane. Here we demonstrate some features of the new system
to Australian ATC senior manager Bill Pollard. TAAATS brought a huge leap in complexity, but introduced Flight Data Processing and
satellite capability, merging all Australian ATC Centres into just two: Melbourne Centre and Brisbane Centre.

 


The brave new world. The newly-built Melbourne Centre during the two-year TAAATS transition, with only one row operational so far.
Cairns was the first location to transition to TAAATS. When that was successfully completed, I was transferred to the new Brisbane Centre,
then on to Melbourne Centre just in time to commence its transition, bringing in Adelaide and Perth Centres.
Dramatic times.


Bass and Central Groups on Melbourne Centre row 2, covering south-eastern Australian mainland, Tasmania, plus New Zealand
and Antarctic
air routes, as well as providing Arrivals sequencing for Melbourne Approach on row 1.         Photo thanks to Phil Vabre


My position in Melbourne Centre was Operations Systems Supervisor, shift manager for the 40 sector room. Fellow OSS Greg Thorpe,
just transferred across from Perth is with me in this picture.
OSS set the TAAATS configurations for the room, handled technical faults
and
air safety incidents, coordinated operational issues across the new enlarged ML FIR from Indian Ocean to NZ boundary.
A demanding and stimulating position, but my age and far too frequent night shifts were making aviation medicals harder to pass.


ATC Retirement. Good friend Tony Wright and I shared a memorable combined retirement party at Dave McKeon's Melbourne home.
With our wives Jane and Maria, we show off our Golden Headset awards (thanks Jock Hossack).


Speeches were made and war stories told. A bonus was the surprise attendance of ATC friends from Perth, Cairns and Brisbane.
This was reaction to my soulful and sincere farewell speech.


Another change of climate. After retirement, I took a contract as an instructor at an ATC school in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. There I joined
Lance Millar and
Peter Roach who I had worked with in Cairns ATC. The day of my arrival - they didn't mention the long Georgian winters!


Tbilisi goes back to medieval times with a violent history of conquest by Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks and other Empires.
Georgia had been a member of the Soviet Union until 1992 and was still struggling to establish stable basic infrastructure such as
electricity, gas and water supply.
Despite churches and buildings going back to the 12th Century and Caucasus Mountain scenery,
tourism was largely unknown.
For us sheltered Aussies, there was a culture shock and unexpected surprise around every corner.


Our college at Tbilisi Airport taught the ICAO ATC curriculum to ab-initio young Georgians like this course. On my right is fellow instructor
Ulf from Sweden who came to us via via Botswana and Armenia. Other instructors came from
Canada, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Britain.
Our ATC Simulator could be configured as Tbilisi Centre, Approach/Departures and for Tower training.


Georgian tradition demands a special feast to celebrate achievements. Whenever a course passed written exams, or the simulator, the long
lunch event was held usually in rustic open air venues - everyone at long tables laden with traditional food, the Georgian red wine flowing
with numerous speeches and toasts. Here I am toasting a course and wishing them long international ATC careers.


Wine was a major part of the Georgian economy. One day the President declared that year's grape harvest was under threat and all
Georgians were expected to help the following day. Airport workers were sent by bus into the countryside to spend the day in vineyards.
This was part of our college team, with our Principal Lance Millar third from the left.


The Tbilisi ATC college conducted other training, including ICAO English language testing for airline aircrew. I'm briefing pilots from local
airline Air Zena, who flew Yak 42s and Boeing 737s. T
he younger First Officers were proficient in English, but the senior Captains,
many from long Aeroflot careers, had not needed Engish untiI the new ICAO rules. Sadly several did
not pass, amid much emotion.


Weekend visits to neighbouring countries was a bonus of time in Tbilisi. I took this pic as we left TBS to visit Baku in Azerbaijan.
The Tupolev Tu-134 was open seating and overbooked, so we joined the mad scramble to board.

(After returning home from Tbilisi, I took a Melbourne ATC Centre contract with the Flex Tracks Project, creating different daily air routes
between Middle East
and Australian airports utilising accurate MET forecast upper winds and jetstreams. Flex Tracks could save an airliner
up to a ton of fuel
each flight. Emirates Airlines was a project partner and us Australian "Trackmasters" spent time at their Dubai Ops Centre.
It was a shock to be expected to go to work in Dubai straight off a 14 hour flight from Melbourne, but Flex Tracks was a great experience.

Following other part-time contracts testing new ATC software, in 2013 I decided the time had come to retire for good.)


50 year reunion of my ATC training course in 2017. Almost all had stayed in ATC for long careers in Australia and overseas.
We agreed it had been an enjoyable and fulfilling profession, but the constant shift work and 2am pizza deliveries had taken their toll.
Crossing paths over the years, in person or recognising voices on intercoms, had maintained our familiarity and group spirit. 


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