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Kate Auletta

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The View From Heathrow's Control Tower (PHOTOS)

Posted: 05/18/2012 8:00 am

As I stepped into the elevator my palms sweated, my knees shook and my teeth chattered.

"It's only broken down twice," said my guide.

"Oh, great," I replied, staring at the floor rather than looking out the windows.

The exterior elevator began its 88-foot climb to the five-year-old control tower of Heathrow airport. I should mention here that not only am I scared of flying, I'm terrified of heights.

I soon found myself standing in a circular bubble, high in the air, with the most insane view this side of the Sahara.

It was an unusually clear day as we stood, whispering so as not to interfere with the nearby traffic controllers, looking out over the terminals, the Boeings, the Airbuses and, further out, Windsor Castle.

A plane takes off and lands from Heathrow every 45 seconds. That's hard to imagine until you see it in action. Planes lined up to land and take off as if I was watching a time-lapse video of arrivals and departures. It's true that everything looks smaller from above, but when you see an Airbus A380 land, it changes your whole perspective.

Watching an Emirates flight land was jarring. I couldn't stop shaking. My feet felt like they would fall out from under me.

"Please don't let there be an earthquake," I repeated to myself over and over again as though that was a realistic possibility.

I looked over at the wall and saw two screens showing both planes in the air around Heathrow and the active runway and concluded then that the job of an air traffic controller is not for the faint of heart.

I walked back into the elevator -- mercifully, the elevator down was inside the tower -- and vowed to keep my feet planted on the ground for the few hours until my flight home.

Loading Slideshow...
  • A plane takes off past Terminal 5.

  • Windsor Castle is barely visible in the distance.

  • Terminal 2, which just recently received its roof, is seen on the left. It's meant to open in 2014.

  • Temporary check-in areas for the Olympics can be seen past the runway

  • London, as seen through the tinted window section.

  • An A380 lands.

  • Terminal 5.

  • The control tower. © BAA Airports Limited

 
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