News and Library

Profile: YBW's first air traffic controller

July 25, 2019   |  


Mike has seen a lot of changes in the world over the past 50 years, but none moreso than in the world of aviation.

Back in 1967 he trained as an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) in Ottawa - a difficult program which saw a high dropout rate. After obtaining his license, he headed to Edmonton briefly before becoming the first controller at the Springbank (YBW) Airport in 1969. 

Fifty years ago, the runway was a levelled farmer's field, and Mike's workspace was pretty primitive as there were no buildings on site. 

"The control tower was a glass dome that sat in the back of a truck," he explains, "and there were two of us cramped inside with no radar, a bunch of radios and the two of us giving out wind speeds, runways in use and altimeter readings. We always had to have a mental picture in our head of what was happening around us."

With no runway lights the airport only operated in daylight hours, and a port-a-potty served as the only washroom facilities. With it being a new airport, Mike and his co-workers had to set up and establish procedures "on the fly" (pun intended).

One of his favourite memories at YBW was okaying a "touch and go" landing of a DC-4 on a test flight out of Calgary. With the runway obscured by the farmer's field, many Calgarians didn't even know it exists, and as the DC-4 dropped out of the sky to land there were some fender benders on the TransCanada highway as confused drivers looked up.

"I got in a bit of trouble for that one," laughs Mike.

After a short stint at YBW, Mike spent the remainder of his career in Calgary. Despite it being a stressful job, he says he got great personal satisfaction from safely "moving the tin". A self-professed aviation geek, looking at planes all day was a joy to him.

"Controllers are always thinking of potential problems and thinking in four dimensions. I was good at that and good at my job."

Mike spends his time these days volunteering as an airport White Hat Volunteer, at an air museum and at the bird sanctuary. 

So whether tin or feathered, once the love of flight is in your blood, you're hooked for life.