When I grow up …

… I’m going to be an air traffic control officer.

I had the best time, today, at Stansted Airport control tower. Through a friend, Dave, a visit was arranged for me to meet the general manager of National Air Traffic Services at Stansted, Paul, and he was so kind as to answer a load of questions about the erstwhile career of my current hero, Dominic, and help me work the last kinks out of my backstory. (At least, I hope they’re the last kinks …)

He told me how Dominic’s career could have come to an end, how far he could have reached prior to the big life change that has plonked him into my WIP, Dream a Little Dream, and how he was likely to feel about that. He gave me loads of info on jargon and acronyms, without which the world of aviation wouldn’t be the world of aviation, and …

drrrrrrrrrrrrrum rollllllllllllllllll …

… he took me up into the control tower. It was such bliss. I don’t know if I’m unnatural but I love aircraft! (I love cars, too, but that’s a different novel.) I was introduced to the deputy watch manager, Lianne, and she took me over to Simon, the ground controller. Simon plugged me into his frequency and I was able to sit beside him and watch as he moved aircraft from the runways and onto the aprons (the bit beside the stands. The stands is where the planes park. You know, where you get on and off) and off the aprons and onto the runways. The guy next to him, Rob, did the bit where they get the aircraft off the ground and into the air, and they moved aircraft between them, a game of pass the giant-tin-parcel-with-hundreds-of-people-on-board.

The control tower itself is both serene and buzzy. ‘Control’ is definitely the appropriate word. The view is incredible, over miles of land and sky in almost all directions, with aircraft arriving and departing as if on some massive video game. It’s such a rush!

Simon was so clear in his explanations that I was completely caught up in what he was doing. Although I love aviation, I’m not the most technically minded person – there must a joke, here, about things whooshing over my head – but I was able to follow the progress of aircraft from one of his screens to the next to the next and over to Rob. And then from Rob, over Simon’s screens in the other direction, until they were on their stands. I couldn’t always tell what the pilot transmissions contained, but Simon didn’t seem to have any problems in deciphering the codes, call signs and squawks in accented English of all kinds. I had a paper plan of the aerodrome, a screen showing the same thing but with the aircraft moving around on it, and I could see the real thing through the window. It was brilliant.

I was just sorry when my time with Simon was up, Paul had to go to a meeting at Heathrow and I was shown genially on my way. I could have stayed up there for hours and hours, pestering everyone and generally getting in the way.

Huge thanks to everyone I met at Stansted today. You’ve made a novelist very happy.

And there would have been some wonderful pix … if I had taken the batteries for my camera. (I was in a rush.)


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2 responses to “When I grow up …

  1. I love planes! What an amazing experience. I really must try harder in researching… (Actually one book idea I have contains firemen…)

    I was very lucky enough, in my time working for Airbus at Filton, to have my desk in a new office, right there at the end of the runway. Got to see lots of planes take off and land.

    Not quite to the extent of Heathrow or Gatwick… but we did see Concorde take her final flight, and land at Filton for its last time. We were also there last year (through hubby) for their family open day, and I got to see the A380 in flight (I was working at Airbus when it was in its final design stages).


  2. Penny

    Our very first flat overlooked the old control centre for Heathrow: lots of dishes and aerials and stuff. Quite soon, it moved to more modern premises…
    A fascinating account, Sue. I’d often wondered what it might have been like in there!


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