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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Cap'n & the Controller—Part II

#blog #avgeek #aviation #ATC

Our story so far:
Blog buddy and Phoenix Air Traffic Controller Brian Bond contacted me via my Cap'n Aux Facebook page (facebook.com/CapnAux). We quickly decided to trade tours of each other's jobs.

Our planned adventure was twofold:

First, Brian would ride on my cockpit jumpseat during a live flight (see my previous post, Part I, here.)


Second, I would tour his ATC TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) facility, co-located with Phoenix Tower, in the heart of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

PART II
I met Brian at the security guard booth for the Controller's parking lot, in between Terminals 3 and 4.

KPHX Sky Harbor International Airport.
There, I went through their X-ray scanner and i.d. check. Security at this facility is even tighter than at TSA checkpoints!


Beginning Ops in 2007, this is PHX's 4th and latest control tower. The previous tower (background) took over a year to tear down.
 
Out with the old, in with the new! 
From Wiki: The airport's current 326-foot (99-meter) tall air traffic control tower began operations on January 14, 2007. The tower stands just east of the Terminal 3 parking garage, and also houses the Phoenix TRACON. This is Sky Harbor's fourth control tower and is among the tallest control towers in North America.
Speaking of security, I was informed that no recorded media inside the facility would be allowed. I could only take photos of the view outside the Control Tower itself. Therefore, all interior photos below were from online sources. But I still got some great shots for you!
I snuck a pic in the john though. Ha, take that!
I'm such a rebel.
Our tour began at Level 2, PHX TRACON, which stands for Terminal Radar Approach Control. In short, Controllers here direct aircraft to and from Phoenix airspace. From there, they are often handed of to ARTCC, or Air Route Traffic Control Centers, which are regional facilities controlling multi-state air space. To the west, it's Los Angeles Center; east: Albuquerque Center; north: Salt Lake Center; south into Mexico, Mazatlan Center.

Shot of Norcal TRACON, very similar to PHX TRACON.
Modern TRACONs are set up in a circle. The supervisors sit in the Center and help coordinate Departure and Approach controllers, and assist during emergencies. Even in today's hi-tech age, a data runner stands by to physically hand-deliver some flight info to various controllers.

Departure and Approach controllers sit at scopes around the perimeter. Typically, there are several initial approach controllers, and one or two final controllers. But airports have rush hours, too, and during high volume times, staffing and sectors will increase.

 


Now, how does it all work? Let's put it together.

Let's say you're Major Tom, a Cap'n for Oddity Airways . . .

Today you are operating Flight 123 from LAX to PHX. Your sequence of ATC facilities would go like this:
  1. Halfway to KPHX, Los Angeles Center hands you off to Albuquerque Center.
  2. Just after starting your downhill run into KPHX from cruise altitude, about 30 miles out, Albuquerque Center hands you off to Phoenix Approach Control.
  3. Somewhere within 10-15 miles or so of the airport, Phoenix Approach will hand you off to the Final Controller.
  4. Somewhere around 5-10 miles or so, the Final controller hands you off to Tower Control, who clears you to land.
  5. After pulling off the runway, Tower hands off Major Tom to Ground Control. (You saw that one coming, didn't you!)
  6. Ground Control hands off Major Tom off to Ramp Control, (unless your circuit's dead, and there's something wrong! Can you hear me, Major Tom?)
When departing, you do the same thing in reverse!

Notice that, at all times during your flight, you are in "positive contact" with radar controllers who separate you from other aircraft. Except for a few spots in North America—mostly in Alaska, or enroute over the Pacific to Hawaii—you are always in "positive" radar and radio contact.

Unless, of course, you really are Major Tom, in which case you're pretty much screwed. . .

 
 Some really cool radar scopey pics, of which I have no clue . . .

Phoenix TCA, "Class B" airspace—the area PHX TRACON controls:


—  —  —  —  —

Next came our tour of Floor 20—that is, Phoenix Tower! I'll let the pics speak for themselves: 

Stock pic of a modern Control Tower
  
. . . and my pics.
Above: looking East; Below: looking West
 

Here's a YouTube vid of pics from the day before the tower's opening.
Not much to add, but you can see a few more things here:



PS—

Just because it's so fun, here's astronaut Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie's Space Oddity while "floating in his tin can"—in orbit on the ISS! (17.5 million hits? Man, wish MY vids got that many! Guess I gotta launch into orbit!):



Link to David Bowie's original, 1969 video: http://youtu.be/D67kmFzSh_o

...and a link to Bowie's "new, improved" version:  http://youtu.be/uhSYbRiYwTY

ADDENDUM—

I've had a lot of great feedback from this 2-part series, and here's a couple of the most fascinating questions:

"What impressed or surprised you as you saw your job through the controller's eyes, and as you toured the ATC facility? How do you think the experience will affect you going forward?"
Rick W.

Cap'n Aux:
From what I gathered, Brian really got a kick out of being in the cockpit with us! I imagine things moved pretty fast for him, because as a GA pilot, he's used to flying planes going a fraction of the speed. Also, it was a hoot when he recognized a couple of the controllers on the radio. I was tempted to tell them we had him on board, but you can't get too chatty on an open mike! 

Ultimately, while we had a blast, I think Brian is glad he took the career path he did. He still enjoys recreational flying, and knows that many airline pilots get "burned out" on the job.

My impressions are a bit tougher to nail down, as I have visited ATC and Tower facilities in the past--quite a long time ago, but no real surprises for me. I suppose what impressed me the most is the advancement in technology from the "old days." The accuracy of the scopes, the information available, and the manipulations they can do are pretty incredible. Sort of like upgrading from a Commodore 64 to a Mac Pro!

Also, ATC is a very big, very dark, very silent room. Almost eerie that way. "Like a morgue," as one reader put it. Still, as we walked around the perimeter, we could hear some bantering going on between controllers sitting next to each other. All in all, it seemed to be quite a casual and relaxed atmosphere for them.

Could I be comfy doing his job? Good question. We couldn't  use the ATC simulators, which I was hoping to do, but I imagine I would have been every bit as overwhelmed as he would feel flying my sim!

How will this experience affect me, going forward? I certainly have been able to put a "human face" to the voices on the other side of the mike. I think it has left me with both a newfound respect for their jobs and challenges, and a willingness to be more "compliant" with their directives. Sometimes, we pilots feel as if the controller is "trying to fly the plane for us," and it can get annoying. But I see that there are always reasons behind what they do—separation requirements, mostly, and we as pilots have to learn to NOT take it personally!


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Related Cap'n Aux Posts:
Related Links:
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                        POST-FLIGHT CHECKLIST
  1.  JOIN THIS SITE......................VERIFY.............................JOINED
  2.  COMMENT.............................VERIFY.............................MADE
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      POST-FLIGHT CHECKLIST.......................COMPLETE!      
— — — — — — —
LINED UP & WAITING
Departing Sunday, September  29
Blogging in Formation Week!
Posts all week beginning Monday
October's Topic: My Best Instructional Moments

Sun 29th: House of Rapp - Ron Rapp 
Mon 30th: iFLYblog - Brent Owens 
Tues Oct 1: Adventures of Cap’n Aux - Eric Auxier
Wed Oct 2: Flight to Success - Karlene Petitt 
Thu Oct 3: Smart Flight Training - Andrew Hartley
Fri Oct 4: Airplanista - Dan Pimentel 
Cap'n Aux post: ,  Tues, Oct 1 @ 00:30 PHX
— — — — — — —
HOLDING SHORT
Departing October 9
These are a Few of my Fa-vorite (Aviation) Bloggers!

— — — — — — —

TAXIING FOR TAKEOFF
Departing October 16

Special Halloween Edition
The Darwin Awards—Aviation style!
— — — — — — —


R U on FaceBook? Twitter?  Me too! 
I post on FB (http://www.facebook.com/CapnAux) & Tweet (@capnaux) almost every day!

DID YOU LIKE THIS POST? Me too!
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Cap'n & the Controller—Part I


#blog #avgeek #aviation #ATC
blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
ATC Controller Brian jumpseats with Cap'n Aux!
Recently, blog buddy Brian Bond contacted me via my Cap'n Aux Facebook page (facebook.com/CapnAux). To my surprise, it turns out that Brian is not only an FAA Air Traffic Controller, but one based in my home town of Phoenix. He works at the PHX TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility—see Wiki, below.)

Never one to pass up a golden opportunity, I immediately suggested we trade tours of each other's jobs. Brian readily agreed.

Our planned adventure was twofold:
First, Brian applied to the FAA for special authorization to take a "familiarization" ride on my cockpit jumpseat during a live flight.

Second, I would tour his ATC facility, located at the heart of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Bonus: also co-located with his TRACON facility happens to be the Tower itself, which I also hoped to tour.

But more about that next week . . .

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

It took about a month for the "special authorization" to wind its way through the labyrinth of FAA red tape, but it finally came back approved!

We picked a flight from KPHX to KSEA (Seattle-Tacoma Airport, also known as "Sea-Tac"). Conveniently, it was a "turn"—that is, I was scheduled to fly up to SEA, turn right around and fly back. That way, Brian could jumpseat back home with us as well.

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel


Before our flight, Brian met me for a quick tour of our pilot lounge in Phoenix. Then we headed off to the plane.
Meanwhile, over on my Cap'n Aux Facebook page, things started  buzzing.

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

Determined to tag along with us, the blog peeps held a flight tracking party. We even had several cyber-celebrities chime in, including Dave in the UK and Julie T.—"Miss TWA", at misstwa.blogspot.comAnd, boy, did they cyber-party!


 

While perhaps nowhere near the epic proportions of the 787 Dreamliner's maiden flight on September 17— the "Flight Tracked 'Round the World"—our flight trackers really made our trip special.

Way to go, guys and gals, YOU ROCK!!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
Dave from the UK shows off his tracking prowess...and his feet!
(Note: I do NOT represent any airline on this blog; hence the airline names are deleted from all photos. But you're a smart cookie. If you want, you can figure out what airline owns the call sign Cactus, with the flight designators AWE 75 & 18!)

During our turn, several blog followers posted flight track screen shots, updates and comments. Bill K. in LAS was my designated "Voice of Cap'n Aux," and posted "PA's" on my behalf of our flight's progress!
blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

And speaking of voice, several trackers listened in to our radio calls on liveatc.net!

— — — — — — —

 — — — — — — —

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
Heads-up! Here comes our plane, inbound to PHX!

We arrived at our gate a tad early; our plane hadn't arrived yet from DCA. To my surprise, our A321 flight to Seattle and back would be used to train several brand spankin' new flight attendants. So, instead of the usual four, we had a total of eight! With this many aboard, ol' Cap'n Aux was feeling like an A380 Cap'n!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
It's a gaggle of groupies lined up to get Cap'n Aux's autograph!
Oh, wait, it's just our flight attendants!
During our wait, I got to schmooze with some of our fine passengers—one of my favorite parts of the job!
I gave my new buddy Tyler a pair of wings.
One set of plastic wings: 25¢. Memory: Priceless!

Oh, and his reply? "Thanks for not crashing the plane!"

The flight pulled in on time, and deplaned. Now it was our turn.
blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
FO Scott was an excellent tour guide for our guest!

I took care of the paperwork while FO Scott escorted Brian on his "walk-around," inspecting the exterior for safety issues, as we do on every flight.

On the FB page, things started heating up. "Cap'n Bill" posted his first PA:



Back at the ship, boarding started. Everything was looking like a GO. Then we "mechanicaled!"

Yep, our anticipated on-time push was delayed due to a . . . 

Toilet seat!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
What can ya do?!
All parts of an airliner must be accounted for, even toilet seats. Some non-safety related items can be MEL'd (Minimum Equipment List—deferred for repair at a later date.) But that would mean closing off the First Class lav.

I made the command decision: "No way, Jose!"


Mechanics quickly replaced the errant seat, and we shoved off none the worse for wear, a few minutes tardy. But it was enough to start wisecracks a crackin' over at FB!



Ya, ya, everyone's a critic! 

"Is Cap'n Daddy ever gonna launch, Arwen?"
"I dunno, Tarzan. He's such a perfectionist!"

Here's one of the coolest parts of our story:

Justin L., who lives smack dab underneath our departure track (SILO 3 departure), stepped out to his back yard . . . and took our photo as we passed overhead—HOW COOL IS THAT!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

Thank you, Justin! I'm gonna have to get that pic framed!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
Above L: I got to meet Justin earlier this year! R: See, we just flew over him—great job, Justin!


Let's let those FB wiseacres help me tell the rest of our story:

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel


blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel


blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
Passing Mt. Rainier on the arrival.
blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
One last shot of Rainier.


blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
On the left downwind leg to KSEA, landing Rwy 16R.



Have you ever heard of the "$100 hamburger?" That's what GA pilots like to do: fly somewhere, and have a burger! Factoring in the cost of the flight, said burger cost much, much more...but you get the point!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

Well, between flights, we treated ourselves to a "$100 seafood chowder" at Ivar's, Seattle Airport food court! If you ever pass through Sea-Tac, don't miss it! (actual price: $5-7!)

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Our return flight, Cactus 18, in photos:


blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel 
 Weather's movin' in, taking the scenic route!
blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
 Made it!
blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

What a trip!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novelblog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel

Congrats , Brian, on your jumpseat adventure! Of course, your prize is a copy of my 2nd novel!

blog, airline, aviation, avgeek, cockpit, airbus, a320, flight deck, cap'n, capn, aux, novel
And Congrats to our newest Flight Attendants!
Eh...but get outta my SEAT!

Brian, Scott, the Facebook wiseacres and I all had a fantastic time!

But for FO Scott and I, our SEA turn was only the kickoff to a 4-day flight sequence. From there, we flew out to DFW. Coincidentally, on Day 2 of this trip, I got to meet an aviation hero of mine,  fellow pilot-blogger JD Campbell.

I posted this earlier, but here's my vlog about it again!



Speaking of which, just last week I got to meet one of our flight trackers, David McD & his family!:


PS—
Check out Miss TWA's "Sister" Post at:

SEE YOU ALL NEXT WEEK FOR PART TWO OF OUR ADVENTURE!

Related Cap'n Aux Posts

Related Links
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       POST FLIGHT CHECKLIST
  1.  JOIN THIS SITE......................VERIFY.............................JOINED
  2.  COMMENT.............................VERIFY.............................MADE
  3.  FACEBOOK............................VERIFY.............................LIKED
  4.  TWITTER...............................VERIFY.............................TWEETED
  5.  EMAIL....................................VERIFY.............................MAILED
  6.  OTHER NETWORKS..............VERIFY.............................SHARED

       POST FLIGHT CHECKLIST — COMPLETE!
    — — — — — — —
    LINED UP & WAITING
    Departing Wednesday, September 25 @ 11:00 PHX
    The Cap'n & the Controller—Part II

    Cap'n Aux visits PHX TRACON & Tower!
    — — — — — — — — — —
    HOLDING SHORT
    Departing Sunday, September  29
    Blogging in Formation Week!
    Posts all week beginning Monday
    October's Topic: My Best Instructional Moments!
    Cap'n Aux post: ,  Tues, Oct 1 @ 00:30 PHX
    Sun 29th: House of Rapp - Ron Rapp 
    Mon 30th: iFLYblog - Brent Owens 
    Tues Oct 1: Adventures of Cap’n Aux - Eric Auxier
    Wed Oct 2: Flight to Success - Karlene Petitt 
    Thu Oct 3: Smart Flight Training - Andrew Hartley
    Fri Oct 4: Airplanista - Dan Pimentel 
    — — — — — — —
    TAXIING FOR TAKEOFF
    Departing October 9
    These are a Few of my Fa-vorite (Aviation) Bloggers!
    — — — — — — —


    R U on FaceBook? Twitter?  Me too! 
    I post on FB (http://www.facebook.com/CapnAux) & Tweet (@capnaux) almost every day!

    DID YOU LIKE THIS POST? Me too!
    If so, I invite you to COMMENTSHARETWEETLIKE, EMAIL +1 etc., below!
    It looks like this: 

    See?  Right down below this line!