Air Traffic Control in 1956
Press Release 4 Oct 1956:
On the night of Thursday, 4th October, an extensive new system for the control of civil aircraft was put into service. This system comprises three major units - a control tower, flight progress board and a remotely operated V.H.F. repeater station. In addition, there is provided from the control tower remote control of the aerodrome lighting including high and low intensity runway lighting, high intensity approach lighting and navigational aids associated with the aerodrome and the emergency diesel generating plant. This is by far the most extensive combined work that the Department has ever carried out.
The majority of the work associated with the flight progress board and the control tower is of a highly specialised nature and represents a great deal of original thinking and design. Owing to its nature and the type of technical knowledge required, practically the whole of the design was carried out by engineers of the Department, but a large proportion of the actual work of constructing equipment was done by private industry, the installation of course being carried out by the Department's technicians. The equipment associated with the repeater station at Mt Macedon is all of commercial manufacture, but a proportion of the design which again includes much originality was done by engineers of the Department.
From the start of design, which incidentally involved the production of some 500 drawings, until completion yesterday, the period of only 15 months elapsed. Considering the magnitude and originality of the work involved this is a remarkably short time. The overall cost of the equipment net including buildings was £75,000.
The following brief synopsis indicates the purpose of each unit and of the facilities provided.
The flight progress board is the nerve centre of the system and this gives a continuous display of the position of all aircraft under Melbourne Control and shows their relationship with other aircraft along each air route. It displays details of the flight plan filed by the aircraft Captain before departure and therefore indicates his future intentions. Each controller at the Board has direct speech assess to the Captain of each aircraft in his area and to all other people such as the Air Traffic Control Supervisor, the Meteorologist and the various technicians who are necessary to help the controller to do his job. He is also provided with information which indicates whether his equipment is operating satisfactorily, and failures of any part of it are indicated by flashing lights and an audible alarm. It includes also a semi automatic altitude assignment board which is a device which virtually prevents any two aircraft being allocated the same altitude in circumstances which could lead to any kind of danger, however remote. Click here to see some photos.
The control tower again provides direct communication with aircraft within 20 miles of Melbourne Airport. It also provides the controller with direct access to the various officers on the flight progress board and with all other people with whom he may require to speak. It provides him with the visual indication as to whether the various radio navigational aids are operating satisfactorily or not and includes remote control of certain of these aids and the quite extensive approach and runway lighting system. Click here to see some photos.
The remote repeater station situated at Mt Macedon provides four ground/air/ground channels, one for arrivals control, one for northbound aircraft and one for westbound aircraft. The fourth is a special channel provided for R.A.A. F. aircraft and others, particularly private pilots who may not have extensive V.H.F. facilities fitted. It should be noted that the transmitting and receiving equipment for southbound aircraft is located at Melbourne Airport. Each transmitter and receiver is in duplicate and can be changed over remotely from Melbourne Airport.
The coverage obtained from this station extends from Albury in the north, Nhill in the west, 30o 30' south and Cape Patterson in the east.
This station is connected to the airport by means of frequency modulated radio links which are again duplicated, but in this case provide automatic changeover from one to the other in case of failure. They cannot be switched off except by someone deliberately operating the main switch at Mt Macedon. On each link there is a 12 channel carrier telephone system, only 5 channels being in use today. Four of these are one for each frequency and the fifth provides remote control by a telephone dialling system. The communications equipment is self-monitoring in that whilst the controller is speaking a flashing light in front of him indicates the equipment is on the air. An additional flashing light monitoring system indicates what part of the system has failed should such a failure occur.
This station is the first installation of this nature and others are to be built which will extend this type of direct control facility throughout the air routes of eastern Australia.
Editor's note: It is sobering to realise that the 'Melbourne Airport' referred to in this press release is today known as Essendon Airport and the works described were being put in place in preparation for Melbourne's hosting of the 1956 Olympic Games. The Air Traffic Control centre, in which the flight progress boards were located, was situated in a purpose-built Operations Building. This building, derelict today, still stands behind the current Essendon Airport offices on the entrance road. The control tower, intended to be a temporary facility, is still going strong today with no sign of replacement on the horizon.