Eyes in the sky for Navy's floating airfield

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Todd Fitzgerald (author), LSIS Nina Fogliani (photographer)

Location(s): Jervis Bay, Australia

Royal Australian Air Force member Squadron Leader John-John Rozells is the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer onboard HMAS Adelaide. (photo: LSIS Nina Fogliani)
Royal Australian Air Force member Squadron Leader John-John Rozells is the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer onboard HMAS Adelaide.

In any circumstance, military or civilian, Air Traffic Controllers have a highly demanding and critical role. But the challenge skyrockets when the complexity of managing the launch and landing of military aircraft occurs on a floating airfield that continually moves according to wind and sea state.

As the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer onboard, HMAS Adelaide, Royal Australian Air Force Squadron Leader John Rozells faces this situation with a cool head every day.

“We have an airfield that moves, so every day we have different things to take into consideration. It might be airspace restrictions. It might be other aircraft in the area,” he said.

Squadron Leader Rozells is one of two Royal Australian Air Force personnel posted to the Navy’s newest Canberra class amphibious ship.

“For example, in Jervis Bay and where we exercise off the coast is quite busy, we have had C-130J Hercules aircraft doing exercises, a helicopter squadron out of Nowra in training, a parachute training school doing parachute drops and also unmanned aerial systems activity in and out of the area.”

HMAS Adelaide has been conducting an intense training and assessment phase to test the skills of the new ship and her crew.
Squadron Leader Rozells said life at sea had its challenges.

He admitted to feeling “a little queasy on occasions” but said understanding Navy lingo had proven the biggest test.

“It was a foreign language in the early days. The Navy certainly has its own culture and language,” he said. 

“I feel like I am getting better though, I have found myself using terms like cabin instead of room and ladder instead of stairs. I even use forward and aft now instead of front end of the ship and back end of the ship.”

Squadron Leader Rozells was the Senior Air Traffic Control Officer at RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia before posting into Adelaide in June 2014 as part of the inaugural crew.

The 47 year old is used to controlling F-18s and other airplanes but said he had found a passion for helicopters since starting work with the Navy.

“Helicopters are great; they are so versatile. You can tell a helicopter to stop. You can’t tell an F-18 to stop,” he said.

“A military Air Traffic Controller is an exciting job in itself but to do it at sea on a ship like this as part of her inaugural crew is something I never thought I would be doing. Every day I appreciate I am in a unique position.”