AEROSPACE CONTROL OPERATOR
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
I’m Corporal Ryan Ouellette from Windsor, Ontario, an Aerospace Control Operator currently serving in 4 Wing Cold Lake.
And I’m Corporal Jamie Fitzpatrick from Roaches Line, Newfoundland. I’m an Aerospace Control Operator at the Canadian Air Defense sector in North Bay, Ontario.
OUELLETTE: Protecting Canadian families, homes and cities from sudden air attack is a huge responsibility – and so is maintaining safe air traffic at our military bases.
There are three different paths you can go as an Aerospace Control Operator. You could work on the NORAD side of the trade in North Bay, Ontario. You could work in an instrument flight rules terminal, or up in a tower like myself. You know, I get to come up in a tower all day long, and either work in a data position or as a ground controller, and both jobs are extremely fun.
FITZPATRICK: We record flight plans, interpret weather reports, maintain records and help keep routine air traffic flowing smoothly and safely.
OUELLETTE: There is a lot of interaction in the tower. You’re working as basically one large team. We have three or four different positions up here at all times and you’re all coordinating in between each other. I’m coordinating with ground vehicles, and the aircraft themselves.
FITZPATRICK: As air defence controllers, we’re key members of the North American Aerospace Defence team. From our Operations Centre in North Bay, Ontario, we ensure the security of Canadian airspace by analysing radar data from across the country and the far North.
We monitor everything in our skies, including civilian aircraft, protecting North America from potential military or terrorist threats.
I was lucky enough to go to the weapons section where, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the pointy end of the stick here. It gave me an opportunity to coordinate with all outside agencies. You’re right across the country dealing with people and aircraft. It’s different scenarios. The opportunities are endless.
OUELLETTE: The coolest part of the job is getting to come to work every day. You work in a control tower. You have the best view on the base. You get to watch planes fly around all day long, especially fighter-jets.
FITZPATRICK: There are other unique opportunities for Aerospace Control Operators, like specialized postings monitoring space objects that could pose a threat to our communications satellites or the International Space Station.
OUELLETTE: And the opportunity to travel is amazing. Wherever the Air Force goes, we go with them – or ahead of them – whether it’s the airlift to Haiti after the earthquake, or the yearly supply run to our station at Alert, up near the North Pole.
FITZPATRICK: I racked up just over 64 000 air miles in 2009. Being able to travel around – it’s just been amazing.
OUELLETTE: As a new Aerospace Control Operator, after you complete your basic military training, you’ll spend about two months at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations in Cornwall, Ontario. You’ll be trained intensively in what we call the C3 function: command, control and communications.
FITZPATRICK: You’ll learn how to perform the surveillance and identification of aircraft, and the basics of air traffic operations. The instructors are the best in the world, and so are the simulators and radar equipment you’ll be working with.
OUELLETTE: The course was fairly difficult. You have to work as a team, study in groups, lots of practicing involved as well. As long as you go there with a good attitude and work hard, you’ll be successful.
OUELLETTE: When you complete your course in Cornwall, you’ll be ready for assignment to a military air traffic control facility or to the Sector Operations Centre in North Bay, Ontario.
FITZPATRICK: After a period of on-the-job training, you'll take on regular duties, working shifts, because Air Force operations run round the clock, 365 days a year.
OUELLETTE: When you first come to the job, you have to undergo what is called a qualification. At all times, you will have a monitor working with you, showing you the ropes, giving you little tips and tricks on things that can make your job a lot easier for you, and also to do the right things.
FITZPATRICK: It can definitely look like a video game; it can be very overwhelming. I’ll never forget my first day; it looked like a sea of green to me, and that’s all I could see. But your eyes adjust very quickly, your mind adjusts to the job, you realize that “this is something I can tackle”, and just like anyone in the Canadian Forces, we adapt and overcome.
OUELLETTE: I still tell people today that I’m learning something new every day. It does stay challenging, you know. But once you get into position and you become familiar with your surroundings and the airport itself, you start to anticipate what’s going to happen next.
As your career progresses, there are opportunities for advanced training and postings in areas like Precision Approach Radar operations, space monitoring and AWACS operations in the United States and overseas. There are also opportunities to work at one of our deployable tactical radar units or at a Combat Operations Centre.
OUELLETTE: I’ve been working in the Cold Lake control tower for about a year and a half now, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Every day I wake up, and look forward to coming to work.
FITZPATRICK: It’s amazing to be able to come from a small town like Roaches Line and have the opportunities to travel. It was amazing to be in Afghanistan and work with fifty-two different countries, have the opportunities to work with the people and the equipment. It’s something that I wish I could do again tomorrow.
AEROSPACE CONTROL OPERATOR
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES