With my due date for heading South creeping ever nearer, I was coming close to the end of my training period. However, the last technical training courses that I had to complete was also perhaps the most exciting. Prior to attending the course, I had been telling friends that I would be training as an ‘Air traffic controller’; however, Paul, the tutor for the course, rapidly dispelled this myth and I discovered that I was being trained up as an ‘Air Ground Communications Service Radio Operator. This is the most basic CAA qualification, takes only a couple of days to complete and allows the user to operate the ground radio from a small airfield. The top-of-the-range ATC qualification takes years of hard-graft to complete and allows the user to juggle dozens of planes at a major international airport. Whatever the name, the principle was the same – I had to learn the skills required to manage the radio side of aircraft operations in and around Rothera.
Paul was a senior Air Traffic Controller from Stansted Airport who had worked as a consultant for BAS for years. Although a very friendly, likeable chap, he didn’t waste any time and battered his way through the theory side of the course, intermingling the information with true stories of horrific air crashes caused by radio operator errors.
With my blood pressure nicely raised, he then cracked on with the practical side of the course. This consisted of him and me sitting on opposite sides of the classroom with headsets on, with him effortlessly assuming the role of multiple aircraft pilots chattering away to the control tower, and me stammering my way through the appropriate responses. Accuracy was vital – if I deviated away from the prescribed approach at all then he would jump on my errors and replay the scenario until I got it right. As the course progressed, he stepped up the number of aircraft involved and the amount of radio traffic involved until my head was aching with the effort of keeping track of all of the information.
Despite the struggle, this was a brilliant course, and I look forward to trying out the skills for real.