View from the tower

There can be little doubt that an airport looks its best from the control tower. True, pilots may lay claim to this, insisting that nothing equals the view from the front office window of an airplane in the final stages of its approach, but for earthbound controllers, the tower is absolute tops. The panorama afforded by the wraparound windows set at 60 or more feet above ground level is nothing short of breathtaking and the sight of the tiny airplanes, ground vehicles and people moving far below transports one back right into our childhoods’ dream world of model railways. In addition, there is very little happening at an airport without the tower people being aware of it and this tends to impart a sense of power. It is only natural that controllers in the tower should have their share of stories to tell. woking taxi

After passing his written tests, Steve’s first appointment had been as a trainee for aerodrome control. There were two other guys on his shift, one of them an old hand, an instructor, the other one only a few months ahead of Steve in seniority, but already fully licensed. As it happened these two could not strike it off very well together, always finding some excuse to get into an argument. The arguments were invariably lively, often being just short of violent and the subjects encompassed the widest possible variety with the least possible connection to the work at hand or to aviation for that matter.

For Steve, this afforded a unique opportunity. Apparently they had absolute trust in his abilities and in a very short time indeed he found himself working without supervision, while the two of them fought it out in the background. This was a tremendous boost to his ego, the somewhat shaky grounds for this trust notwithstanding. The runway was being extended at the time, but to keep traffic moving even when the work was being done right next to it, the first 300 meters were closed down. This had the effect of making airplanes fly higher over the work area, thus making everyone happy. When they got around to putting on the topmost layer of asphalt, however, this could only be done when no plane was nearby, as the steam-rollers were too high to be left on the new stretch of runway when a plane swooped overhead. Controllers got around this problem by warning the construction supervisor over the radio a few minutes before a plane was due to arrive. This way they had time to pull their equipment over to the side, to a safe distance from the runway.

As usual, Steve was full of the pleasure of issuing landing clearances and when his two friends got into one of their customary arguments, it was just fine by him. That he somehow forgot to warn the steam-roller operator of an approaching plane came as a bit of a surprise. It was dark, the pilot came in low, touching down just at the far end of the closed-off 300 meter section, and the next thing controllers heard was the slightly shaken voice of the construction supervisor as he cheerfully announced:

“Tower, for your information, we can lie down on our bellies here, but we find it rather difficult to turn the steam-roller on its side…”.

Steve finished his trainee period in the tower under proper supervision…