Monday morning arrived, and with the various bits of induction training out of the way, it was time for me to earn my keep and start my job as Comms Manager.
Step one was to meet up with the outgoing Comms Manager, who would remain on base for the rest of the summer to complete the job handover to me. Having tracked him down we headed for my office for the next 18 months, the Ops Tower. This is probably the best office in the world, as it stands above the entire base and commands a stunning view of the mountains and sea around Rothera (as well as having a clear view of the runway and aircraft hangar, of course!).
The tower contains a plethora of exciting comms equipment – basically all of the stuff that I had been learning about for the past 6 months. HF radios for communicating with aircraft and field parties, lots of VHF radios for local comms on base, to aircraft and to ships and various other bits of gear for the aerodrome operations. The most exciting bit of equipment though, is the ‘Voice of God’, a powerful loudspeaker mounted on the tower that can boom out instructions to any unsuspecting person around the base, or even up in the hills opposite. We tried it out on an unsuspecting visiting Canadian, to great effect.
Having gained a slight grasp of how it all worked, the next step was to start chatting away to the boats and planes. Therefore under the watchful eye of my colleague, I stumbled my way through the various messages and responses required to get our Dash-7 aircraft safely from Rothera to Punta. This was nothing like the examples I practised on the course, and there were various embarrassingly long pauses as I scrabbled around on the desk, desperately trying to track down the correct piece of information to transmit to the pilots. To add to the pressure, I was reminded that most of the Southern Hemisphere could hear what I was saying – our radio traffic occasionally gets picked up as far away as Europe, with UK radio hams sometimes dropping us a message to say ‘we are reading you loud and clear’!
Fortunately, the Dash-7 made it safely into Punta and I breathed a sigh of relief as I transmitted the final message of the day: ‘The Rothera runway is now closed’. There will be plenty of activity tomorrow, as we have up to 5 aircraft whizzing around tomorrow, not to mention various boats as well. Oh well, hopefully, practise will make perfect.