Gan Island Post 15th September 1975

 “Standby for broadcast. Private mail is now ready for collection from the British Forces Post Office. End of broadcast.”

You have all heard this happy news drift out from the Station Tannoy, but did you know that anything broadcast on the Tannoy system is done by ATC? Who are ATC? A terrific crowd, someone once said. The trouble is, it was such a long time ago, that nobody remembers who.

Air Traffic Control is the answer. We are the guys responsible, besides the Tannoy messages, for seeing aircraft that might contain your wife, girlfriend, replacement, or stickies, safely onto the runway, and perhaps yourself safely away.

There are three basic shifts, and we mean basic. Who else sits around a11 day reading ‘Confessions of a Window Cleaner’. We have two shift periods, all morning, and afternoon/night .Now you may think that afternoon/night is a long time to sit around doing nothing, however some brilliant person has decreed that we only have to sit in the tower during the morning. For the other shift we are just on call by telephone until about an hour and a half before a movement, then we go in to work. So, unless you come in during the morning, all you will find is one of the three intrepid assistants who man the switchboard 24 hours a day. Never mind, we give the parole for good conduct occasionally.We have three persons on each shift.  A Radar Controller, a visual controller and the Assistant, who I have already mentioned. To be a controller you need three fundamental qualities:

   1) You must be able to make coffee.

               2) You have to be able to read. (Otherwise you would fall asleep with boredom)

   Finally    3) you  must be crazy to do this job in the first place.

      Now, when an aircraft calls us, all hell is let loose but we manage to calm each other down and the Radar Controller speaks to the aircraft. He tells him the latest weather here and, from 100 miles away, he attempts to bring the aircraft towards Gan and feed him onto final approach. However most aircraft do this themselves so the controller just sits there, looking at the radar screen, yawning. During the approach there are important stages. When the aircraft is 70 miles away we let Operations know and they pass the word round to the rest of the station. This produces various comments, from “Why are you waking me up at this time of night?” to “What the hell is he doing here half an hour early?”

At 30 miles from Gan we tell SAS flight who argue amongst themselves and finally tell us where they want the aircraft parked. We have come to the conclusion that they have not much choice on an island this size.Finally, at 12 miles, the Visual Controller, who has been ever vigilant throughout thus, alternately scanning the airfield and a tattered copy of Penthouse, switches the traffic lights to red and checks that the runway is clear of vehicles, rubbish, and the occasional drunk. When it is he gives the aircraft permission to land.
At this stage it would be good to mention that if you are walking round the island and you have passed the lights, when you hear a ringing in your ears it is not a recurrence of the hangover that you had earlier. It means that the lights have gone to red. So the idea is then to turn round and walk back, not to try to beat the aircraft to the other side. This is simply because we do not like scraping your remains off the runway afterwards.
Anyway the aircraft lands safely and we go back to normal, reading, drinking coffee, dozing, etc.

During the working day it is possible that you could bump into another person, wandering round the tower, muttering things like “5 a side league”, “Must have more porn”, and ”Don’t give me a hard tine sunshine”. He is the SATCO, the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer, and is supposed to know all there is about ATC. Please do not tell him otherwise though, as he is liable to refuse to speak to us. It is too quiet as it is.

Seriously, to finish off, we do work very hard up here in the tower. It is just that everyone visits us in our “ slack” periods.

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