AIR TRAFFICKERS KEEPING AIR TATTOO SAFE
The Royal International Air Tattoo's team of volunteer air traffic controllers will handle nearly 1,000 aircraft movements during the 2012 show.
The team of 12 keep a close eye and ear on the aircraft from the the lofty perch of RAF Fairford's air traffic control tower, giving them a view of all the activity on the airfield's 10,000 foot runway and adjoining taxiways. The volunteers come from all across the UK, working at the major airports including Gatwick and Manchester, but their work at Fairford is very close to their hearts.
"It's a different experience working at the Air Tattoo," says Gary Elson, deputy senior air traffic controller at RIAT. "Working at airports we don't deal very often with military aircraft, let alone display teams. "Here at Fairford, we have to be flexible and think on our feet: sometimes, when a display is taking place, we have to hold aircraft off which means the airfield will suddenly get very busy."
The size of the airfield and the length of the runway means the controllers deal with aircraft of all shapes and sizes. This year they have been directing aircraft from the giant C-5 Galaxy of the United States Air Force down to the little Grob Tutors used by the RAF for training. The team work closely with nearby RAF Brize Norton as Fairford does not have its own radar system. The controllers are also enthusiasts themselves, and do their best to ensure photographers at both ends of the airfield see their favourite jets and helicopters.
"This year, we are particularly excited to see the Korean Black Eagles and the Al Fursan team. We have never seen them before, so they are something different," says Gary. "But there are also aircraft we might never see again such as the German Phantom and the French Etendard."
And keeping up to speed with social media, this year the team are even tweeting the aircraft movements, using the @RIATairtraffic handle.