A couple of weeks ago on Sunday 7th September I (and some friends) landed at East Midlands Airport. We flew in PA-28 G-LIZI and after we had vacated RWY 27 we were greeted by a FOLLOW ME car that escorted us to STD70, not many GA planes get to park on the Cargo Apron! The reason for this was because if we had continued to taxi to where the other light aircraft usually park we would have technically go off airside and then we would require security passes which understandably they didn’t have time to sort out for four people as they would require passport details, CRB checks etc...
We were then met by a member of staff from Advantage Flight Support who took us in a minibus to the Control Tower. We were then met by an off duty ATCO who gave us some temporary visitor ID cards and began to show us around.
First we got to visit the ATC Simulator, which is located adjacent to the Approach Control Room and is on the ground floor of the building (not actually in the Tower itself) it was amazing to see! One of the controllers had spent his spare time editing the software and created a custom 767 painted in Scooby Doo livery, it was appropriately named ‘The Mystery Machine’. The controller then pressed some buttons and the right engine suddenly exploded and caught fire, then he demonstrated how he could summon the Airport Fire & Rescue Service to attend to the incident. Unfortunately there was a bug in the system which means that the fire engines often drive into the aircraft landing gear but they do put the fire out (and I suppose that is really the only required level of realism required for training in an ATC environment).
After that we were showed into the Approach Room, which we had just walked through. The controller who dealt with our arrival was happy enough to speak to us when should could get a break in the radio! It was incredible to see the other end of the mic. Suddenly a phone rang; it was a CAA Inspector… Someone in a C152 had just flown over an active airshow that was clearly NOTAMed in the AIP. Oh dear I thought, certainly not a good day for him!
After talking with another controller for a bit and our eyes hurting for staring at all the screens in such amazement we were led up to the Visual Control Room (VCR). This is something I wanted to do for years! We walked into the circular shaped building that was the base of the tower, I looked up… Forgot how many steps there are but it’s a lot, obviously there’s a lift, guess which is the more popular option? The person leading us up said the lift had broken down only a few times and they’ve had to walk up in the mornings – if I had to pick a lift to get stuck in it would be this one as you know someone will find out you’re in there and they’ll want to get it sorted ASAP so they don’t have to walk every day!
After an obviously long wait in the lift (which felt unusual as there are only 2 or 3 floors) there was brightness! We walked up a few stairs and we were in. I must have taken about 100-200 photos, it was great for filming arrivals landing up there. Strangely, it doesn’t seem that high but it is. One of the controllers told us there was a pane of glass that was scratched; next month there will be a crane to lift up a new piece that costs more than a million pound! A lot of the computers have been updated and things modernised since the photos I had found on the Internet. In the ‘good ol’ days’ they used to use flight strips, these are completely redundant now unless there is a system failure and they have no choice but to do it manually.
After some more picture taking and general chitchat to off duty staff we looked at the time and began to accept we would have to reluctantly leave. The minibus picked us up and the kind driver asked if we would like to tour the ramp and drive around the airport taxiways (I think you know what we said…) after the drive we pulled up at STD70 and began to perform the Pre-Start checks, we taxied out past the main apron and waited for an arriving a/c after we did our engine checks and departed from RWY 27. Heading en-route to Long Eaton we flew over Ratcliffe on Soar Power Station and due to excellent visibility we got a great view of Nottingham making for some fabulous pictures to add to my portfolio of aerial shots.
Finally we landed back at Gamston, and if the day couldn’t have got any better we had a McDonald's for lunch! I then returned home and straight away loaded up the files from my camera and GoPro.
“It was a day I’ll never forget.”
I would like to send my thanks to all the staff that we spoke to on the day and all those who made the visit possible. Also particular thanks goes to Paul Kay (ATCO Training Officer) for allowing us to have such a nosey in and being very helpful in assisting me to organise all of this.
(Pictures will be uploaded soon; I’m currently in the process of setting up myself a Flickr account.)