Childhood dream realised

James Madden has dreamed of controlling the skies since childhood.

CAPTION: Flying Officer James Madden in his role as Air Traffic Controller at Darwin Airport. Story by Flight Lieutenant Dion Isaacson.

Now he is living that dream as an air traffic controller posted to Darwin Airport – where the Royal Australian Air Force controls both military and civilian air traffic.

Flying Officer James Madden works in Air Force’s 452 Squadron.

As a boy growing up on a cattle property in Western Queensland, James’ passion for aviation and air traffic control began early in life.

He would look into the sky as international flights passed overhead on their way to Brisbane.

“I learned all of the call-signs of the aircraft,” Flying Officer Madden said.

“My parents got a bit annoyed with me as I was hyper-fixated.”

Fascination with aircraft translated into joining Air Force, and five years later, he directs the same air traffic he once viewed from his outback home.

Every day, air traffic controllers around the globe solve complex three-dimensional aerial puzzles and ensure the skies remain safe with efficiently managed air traffic.

Darwin Airport air traffic control plays an integral part in this.

Flying Officer Madden said his job is extraordinary and challenging.

“Every day work is a puzzle and you get to solve that puzzle – it’s incredibly rewarding,” he said.

Darwin is an exceptional location for air traffic controllers given the unpredictable nature of the tropical wet season from November to April.

“You are in control and you need to solve problems such as spacing and sequencing aircraft,” Flying Officer Madden said.

“The weather here in the tropical north is always ready to surprise you too.

“In Darwin, a storm can move into the airspace in two minutes, it will be there for two minutes, and then leave the area just as quickly.”

Flying Officer Madden has embraced his first twelve months in this unique environment.

“Darwin isn’t everyone’s first preference for postings, but I have had some great adventures here in the territory.

“I have been here a year and loved every minute of it; the outdoors, the camping, the fishing – it’s a great place to live and work.”


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