We made the short journey to Tamworth in a Dash8-100, and I was sitting next to a very athletic fellow ATC trainee, who soon showed everyone he was not the best flier, as he proceeded to fill 3 air sick bags in impressive succession, on what was a perfectly still and smooth flight. Well, until the landing that is, when it seemed the pilots wanted to demonstrate they could reshape the top of the wing by pushing the leg strut through it!
The BAe college at Tamworth is located in the airport complex itself, a few kilometres from the city, isolated but very self sufficient. It is divided in “wings”...we were assigned the top floor of a wing which also housed Japanese students from airline ANA. It had individual bedrooms either side of a long corridor (perfect for playing cricket as we later discovered), there was a communal room with a large tv and a kitchen, plus a fridge which was soon filled to the hilt with the necessary amounts of beer for our substenance.
We had to wake at 6 and be at the mess hall by 6:30, out by 7:30 as classes began at 7:45..it was very regimented. The BAe college housed at this time students from Japan (ANA), China (China Southern and Eastern) as well as the now defunct Ansett Australia. At that time the BAe college also had the contract for initial screening and training of cadet trainees for the Royal Australian Air Force.
For this latter purpose, there was a smattering of former RAAF personnel, who appeared to be relishing their opportunity at a new career, they had to be addressed as “Commander” or “Wing Commander”...I never knew the RAAF had so many of these! One of these characters reminded me of an older version of “Chip Hazard”, he was in his element, never saw him smile, and every RAAF cadet trembled as they saw him and snapped to attention. “Chip” was to be our teacher of “Time and Space”, since he had the pride of having been an F-111 Navigator in his previous career.
All the other instructors were local pilots with lots of experience in their own right, in country flying, not ONE had flown into a major airport, and they all displayed an open contempt for the “restrictions” of controlled airspace. Nonetheless, the classes were good, we went through BAK (Basic Aeronautical Knowledge), navigation, etc...all good, until we got to Chip and his class.
After he took nearly a full class telling us all he knew and didn’t have time to teach us, he proceeded to show us vaguely the requisites of Celestial Navigation. We only had 3 classes before we sat for our exam, which we all proceeded to fail as he required us to work out, if you departed Tamworth at 15:00 hours in a Cessna 152, with a groundspeed of 105 knots, and proceeded to 6 different waypoints of Lattitude and Longitude, we had to work out what time would be “last light” at each point, what time would we be at each point and what time would we return to Tamworth, as well as several other estimates regarding terrain.
About a year later I met another ex-RAAF F-111 navigator and asked if he knew “Chip”...he burst out laughing...he said “Rock Ape?? Of course I know him”....why Rock Ape? The answer: “ In the Air Force we have a saying...the Navigator is NEVER wrong, because simply if the Navigator is wrong, that crew will not be coming back...but Rock Ape had a habit of being wrong, and everytime he was proven wrong, he would get drunk and climb the nearest tree and refuse to come down”!! LOL
A highlight of my time in Tamworth was meeting the Chinese students...not one of them spoke English when they arrived, and they were there strictly to 12 months, so they had to undergo English lessons early morning and late night, as well as lectures through the day, all in English. We were there for their graduation, and must say I was very impressed, I have no doubts they all went on to have great careers, if their attitude and dedication was anything to go by.
We also started bonding as a group, well sort of... Being a rugby player, I had to return home the first weekend to play a semi final for my club, it was a Friday night and the bus did not depart until midnight, so we all went to the local bar in town, where I would kill some time with the guys before going to the terminal. Somehow they all decided to get the light drinker as drunk as possible, and started asking for double or triple shots of alcohol in my drinks. I knew there was something wrong but by the second glass I had lost all sensation in my mouth, and about 15 minutes into it I was as blind as a welder’s dog! My kind friends then deposited me at the bus terminal, where I stood, barely balancing on a wildly swaying world, and feeling the urge to answer a call of nature...somehow I stumbled to the nearest wall, where I proceeded to feel my way along the main wall of the terminal until I found a door, which thankfully was the restroom ( I was vaguely aware of the other passengers waiting at the terminal and what this spectacle must have looked like).
I can’t remember much of my 9 hour journey home, I played lousily the next day but thankfully won, I collapsed comatose after the game, and next thing I knew my alarm went off Sunday morning, time to go to the bus terminal for the 9 hour journey back to Tamworth.
The month went by quickly, we packed our bags and began life at the Air Services Australia ATS College. The first time we laid eyes on it 4 weeks earlier during induction, the College had no chairs, no tables, no phones, just some rooms in a shell. We returned and it looked an impressive setup, until we were told they were pressed for time, and could not create an Ab Initio course from scratch, so we would be given a Fligth Service Officer conversion course instead. So our first run on the procedural simulators were basic, fantastic for our level, but after the introductory runs, the learning curve turned very steep indeed.
We would do theory every day until about 3pm, and then 2 simulator runs, there was an instructor per 2 students, and they were fantastic. Our senior instructor was none other than Ted Lang, who recently, sadly, passed away. “Teddles” was truly a gentleman of the game, man of few words, but knew exactly what to say. I recall feeling lost among a cluster of flight strips on the massive procedural board during an exercise, and Ted would look at me, squint, rubbing his jaw and ask in his low, raspy voice “How are you doing there, sunshine?” to which I replied, “I feel I am losing the picture”...Ted did not reply, merely nodded...then grabbed my chair, and with all his strength, threw the chair with me still sitting in it across the room until it stopped against another console and asked me “How now”....I looked back at my procedural board and it was as if someone had hit a light switch, I could see clearly and could work out my priorities, I simply gave him a thumbs up and returned to the board, Ted smiled and asked “Have we learnt something today? When you cease to see things in whatever you do, simply change the perspective”...gotcha! Ted, wherever you are in heaven, I have never forgotten your lessons.
Pretty soon we discovered the Simulator was truly taking us outside our comfort zone and reshaping us into someone totally new. Our “old selves” would still fight for control, which meant some hilarious situations arose. So of course, it was decided to document these, in a “Green Book” and at the end of the course we would see who won the prize.
Some of the more memorable ones involve a very good friend of mine, nicknamed “Crazy”, for the sole reason that you could picture the guy bringing in the washing calmly when told there was a cyclone outside, just as calm as you could imagine.
We had an exercise combining different routes, Tango, Whiskey, etc. and Crazy was busy with lots of traffic...his instructor, as they always did just to check you had a full picture, looked at two Flight Progress Strips he had in a Tango route and asked Crazy...”What have you got between those two?”
Good old Crazy looked at the two strips...they were on the same Tango route, they were both at F330, and looking at their estimate over the northern waypoint, he did a quick mental calculation and came with a time of passing that was exactly NOW...no wonder the Instructor wanted to know what was happening...he had seconds to avoid a head on collision of two jetliners!
Crazy did not respond to the instructor, but simply pressed the PTT (Push to Talk) and blurted out:
“VH-TAD, traffic alert, descend immediately, traffic is opposite direction B747 at F330 estimated time of passing is NOW, report passing F320”
As his heart was in his mouth, the instructor calmly said:
“Very impressive traffic alert, but tell me, now that you gave 200 people severe whiplash, why did you do that?”
Crazy looked again at the board...two aircraft, same altitude, time of passing correct, same TANGO route, both strips were BLUE...Tango is a ONE way route, BLUE strips meant they were both going in the SAME direction...being the supportive bunch that we were, naturally we all broke into fits of laughter, much to his dismay...but the exercise had to continue, after the instructor composed himself (he had tears from laughing so much)...and he thought he had better put some confidence back in him....so he looked at a pair of aircraft that Crazy had not spoken to for a while but were obviously separated, and asked “Crazy, what Separation Standard have you got between those two”?
Now my old friend was frazzled, frustrated and no longer in control, he looked at them, realised he had not seen them for a while, and his brain was obviously not fit to perform any appraisals on the run so he answered: “LUCK”....now we had our very first entry into the book of quotes!
But just when we thought we had our winner, I stormed to the front...we had a massive exercise where aircraft were departing a procedural tower and heading north...but there was high traffic crossing east-west starting about 80nm north of the aerodrome. The choices were: leave the departing aircraft low and get penalised for traffic management, or try to step them carefully, increasing your workload and exposing yourself to a nasty fall. I decided for the “pretty” option...with everyone watching, I saw the tower had a metar that showed outside air temperature at 41C...so climb performance would not be pretty...if I could get this departing B737 to F350 straight away, I would not have any issues with the crossing traffic which was between F310 – F330 and I could forget about the whole episode..
So what to do? Simple...this genius worked out in a map the lateral separation point..it was only 29NM north of the field...so I accepted the request from the tower for departure clearance and cleared the aircraft to F350 with a requirement to be a F350 by 29nm north of the field...simple, right? What I neglected was to add a requirement to set course over the aerodrome to reach F350 by 29nm north...so on we went, I was proud of myself, all sorted. I got the departure call, and soon after the aircraft called me..I asked for his altitude and distance as the first aircraft crossing was at F310....the response...”climbing best rate past F300 at 55nm north of the field”...I froze...the crossing traffic was at 60nm north of the field at F310..and involuntarily, I muttered “This will be close”...after a split second, there was an explosion of laughter behind me, not sure at the expression (like a stunned mullet) in my face at seeing my brilliant plan turn to ashes or my Shakespeare-eske appraisal of the situation! Either way, my phrase was voted the winner, among the 3 pages of quotes we collected. *sigh*
Next...graduation, and field training