The tower with a soul… 4

On 29-01-2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

Wrestling with the “furniture”

The huge control panel for the various ground lights, like the taxiway lighting, was next to the ground controller’s console. The control panel was teeming with various switches used to turn various sections of taxiway lights on and off. The panel was variously nicknamed Christmas tree and railway shunting-yard. The multitude of small LED’s presented an impressive picture when night fell. There was only one problem with this panel, and also the panel used to switch the runway lights… you could operate the switches only through a very specific movement of your hand, something that needed to be learned separately. Not infrequently, the first attempt had to be followed by a second one… For some colleagues the frustration was too much with the result that we had to call the maintenance crew to restore certain broken parts…

We worked two hours in a given position, rested two hours and then went back to work in a different working position. There were five positions in all, so every two hour turn needed 5 controllers. There were 12 of us in a shift so it was not difficult for the supervisor to draw up the daily schedule. We spent the two hour rest breaks pretty actively, the most popular entertainment having been a decrepit table-football set. We formed permanent pairs and in the heat of the competition time seemed to lose its significance. Not once and not twice, the supervisor had to remind us why we were at the airport in the first place… Another favorite was chess of course. There was a big tournament and it took months before everyone had a chance to play against everyone else but this only increased the glory of those who won. I was rather proud of the several third places I was able to garner.

The fight for radar

The mixed mode operation on our single runways was always a bit exciting (we did have two runways but one was being rebuilt as you will recall). We had a “copy” of the approach radar picture but this was strictly for information only. Getting a departure slotted in between two arrivals continued to be an exciting endeavor. Of course this was also part of the fun! The feeling of achievement when we managed to solve a tight situation to the satisfaction of everyone (and within the regulations…) is hard to describe in words. On occasions when things did not go the way I would have wanted, I kept gnawing myself for days afterwards… I could have lined him up and did not… things like that.

A special treat we had was the numerous training flights we were blessed with and the fancy footwork needed to integrate them into the rest of the traffic. They had special needs and wanted to make as many circuits as possible while we needed to make sure that they did not get in the way of normal traffic. These training flights flying on downwind were usually in the charge of the tower and we were responsible for turning them on base and final, behind the normal arrivals. We had to do a lot of mental maths because the radar image was not to be used. Turn them too early and they catch up with the previous arrival, turn them too late and not only will they be in the way of the next arrival but will also make fewer circuits by the end of the day… It had to be done exactly right.

If only we could have used the radar… It took about 10 years before we were able to obtain a limited radar competence entered into our license and this opened up the radar screen for separation use.

Small planes, big planes

Working small aircraft was fun in a category all unto itself. Especially small foreign Cessna’s and others with their poorly trained pilots caused a lot of headaches. They flew around like moths on a windy day… like somebody who knows how to drive a car but has never heard of the rules of the road. There were a few hot moments, the ugliest was the case where we had to break off the take-off roll of a Malev TU-154 when one of the “moths” flew into its path… The Tupolev ended up with new rubbers and a delay of several hours while the small plane landed as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

We never learned whether the pilot of that small plane was ever called to account. For us the result was several weeks of investigation of the event and in the end, we almost got the blame for the whole thing because the committee discovered a minor error in phraseology use. Crazy, crazy. That we saved two aircraft, avoided a collision, apparently did not account for much. They jumped only on that minor error which had no real bearing on the incident. I love my job but our history is often tragic and comical at the same time…

Do you remember Interflug? That was the airline of the German Democratic Republic and we could only admire their pilots. They were precise, followed the instructions to the letter and almost never complained. They flew the IL-18 like a fighter and performed a few spectacular visual approaches that were an experience not to be missed. It was a pleasure working with them. The contrast could not be bigger with some of the pilots of our local airline who were not beyond throwing some hysterics if things did not go exactly the way they would want it. I will not dredge up names but some were truly insufferable.

To be continued…

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