This engineer is installing a next-gen radar atop a Norwegian mountain
Mount Gullsvågfjellet does not make for an ideal office space. Not with that weather.
Atop the mountain, at 725 metres above sea level on Norway’s Vega Island, Mark, a Raytheon UK engineer, is installing a new air traffic control radar amid snow storms, bitter winds and low visibility.
“When the snows come in, the mountain is almost closed down. And the cable car doesn’t run most of the winter because of the strong winds, so the only way up is by foot on a tough, two-hour hike,” said Mark. “Also, there’s minimal daylight, as Vega Island is near the Arctic Circle.”
Since 2000, Mark has installed Raytheon UK radars all over the world, from the U.K. to the U.S., South America, North Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Seventy percent of his job is on the road.
He is outfitting Mount Gullsvågfjellet with Raytheon UK’s Condor MK3, a state-of-the-art surveillance radar for air traffic controllers. This is the first MK3 radar installed on Vega Island and second in Europe to be commissioned by the Norwegian government to upgrade the island’s current radar system. Raytheon UK will install a total of four Condor MK3s for the nation's Avinor Air Navigation Services Provider, the first of which was installed at Norway's Sola municipality.
“Installing and commissioning the Condor MK3 has been one of my biggest challenges, due to the weather and location,” said Mark. “But when it’s fully operational, it will give the customer a world-class capability to monitor air traffic.”
Mark is setting up the MK3, finalising the commissioning tests and ensuring the antenna and turning gear are in working order.
Getting to this work location is a mission in itself.
“I take multiple flights to get to Brønnøysund, then drive 20 kilometres to catch one of only a few ferries which go to Vega Island'” he said. “I then get a cable car to the top of the mountain. The journey takes a good day and a half, one-way.”
Last October, Mark spent six weeks on Vega Island installing a temporary radar to ensure uninterrupted coverage when the existing radar is decommissioned. The radar was brought in via helicopter. But bad weather in the following days grounded the cable car and he couldn’t get back up the mountain for three weeks.
Kitted out in cold-weather gear, he allows that descending the mountain at the end of the day is something he looks forward to.
“Winter on the mountain is fierce,” said Mark. “If you don’t get down the mountain you have to stay there. There is very basic accommodation, and you don’t really want to stay up there through choice.”
Condor Mk3 programmes are already underway or have been completed in Brazil, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway, with active global interest from other air traffic operators across the America's and the Middle East.
In January 2020, the company signed a multi-million-pound Condor Mk3 contract with Brazil for Condor Mk3.