Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Aviation Stories

Two funny stories today from our instructor:

Braniff 727

He was working in Oklahoma City tower at a time when Braniff International Airways was still in operation (the airline folded in 1982). During that period, Braniff had a promotion called "Braniff Bucks". If your Braniff flight was late, you would be paid a dollar for every minute over the scheduled arrival time. 20 minutes late, you'd pocket $20. Naturally, this gave the flight crews a real incentive to get to their destination as quickly as possible.

Well, one day there's a Braniff 727 inbound to Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. They're cutting it close on the clock, and from the direction they're coming they'll have to take a full pattern to approach the runway into the wind. So, to save time, the pilot requests a straight-in opposite-direction landing, meaning he'll be landing with the wind at his back. This isn't explicitly dangerous, as long as the wind isn't too strong and the runway is long enough. The reported wind isn't too high, so the tower approves the request and clears him to land.

So in he goes. The tailwind is higher than reported and, to compound the situation, his approach speed is over what it should be. He touches down, realizes that the speed's way too hot, and proceeds to basically stand on the brakes. As he's gripping the yoke, he depresses the mic toggle, and now everyone on the frequency can hear the mayhem in the cockpit. The pilot is swearing up a storm, and in the background you could hear the flight engineer counting down the Runway Distance Remaining markers. "Three thousand! Two thousand! One thousand!" Somewhere along the way, the landing gear collapses, and the Boeing does a slip-and-slide right off the end of the runway and takes out the approach lights.

As it grinds to a halt, the pilot releases the mic and the frequency goes silent. Everyone on board is relieved and glad to be alive. The captain and crew are dreading what this will do to their careers.

Without missing a beat, the local controller keys his mic: "Well..." he says dryly,"at least you beat the clock!"

IFR F-16

The airport where our instructor was working was under serious IFR conditions. They had an F-16 trying to land through the soup, but after two failed attempts he was running low on fuel. He only had enough for one more try, and specifically requested that the tower put their best guy on the radio to talk him down. If he didn't make it this time, he'd take it straight out and eject.

So the tower puts their most experienced guy on the radio, the guy who's been controlling since the only thing in the air were pterodactyls. He talks that F-16 out of the sky, bringing him right into the pocket. The fighter touches down beautifully, rolls out on the runway, and flames out before he can turn off. It was a lucky day for the pilot. The trucks roll out to the airplane and retrieve the pilot.

Later on, the hotshot controller hangs up his headset for the night and leaves for home. Due to that airport's layout, he needs to cross the runway and movement areas to get out. So he hops in his car, heads on to the foggy dark runway... and proceeds to drive into the F-16. That's right, the same multi-million dollar fighter that he talked down earlier was still sitting on the runway, in the dark and muck. And now it has thousands of dollars of damage due to the same guy who saved it from destruction!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Day 10: Caution, Wake Turbulence

Today's Lessons:
  • Block Test III
  • Wake Turbulence
  • VFR Arrivals

We had Block Test III today, which covered lessons 14-18 (up through ground control). I got 2 wrong and walked away with a 94%.

Afterwards came a brutally dry session of Wake Turbulence lessons and practical examples. The best way I've found to describe Wake Turbulence is as a logic puzzle. It's a seemingly endless combination of "If A = B then B = C... but does C = A?" puzzles that just become a little mind-numbing. There's a lot of factors to take into account, from aircraft size to the departure point on the runway.

The problem is that, as dry as it is, it is absolutely vital to successfully passing this course. You will be making a ton of "HOLD FOR WAKE TURBULENCE" and "CAUTION WAKE TURBULENCE" calls throughout your training. You need to know it well enough that it will just roll off your tongue without a thought, because when you're getting busy you can't stop and think about anything.

However, I think I've broken it down to its essence. The packet we were being taught from was pretty lengthy and it went into a lot of unnecessary detail and repetition. I like things simple, and I think I managed to simplify it enough to put it into a few basic rules.

To start, there's three common factors for each Wake Turbulence rule:
  • Holding time
  • Can it be waived?
  • Is it measured from when the aircraft begins its takeoff roll, or from when it rotates and leaves ground?
And from there, we go on:

3 Minute Holds (Non-waiverable / Timed from Aircraft Rotation):
  • Anything at an intersection behind a Heavy/Boeing 757.
  • All departures in the opposite direction of a departing Heavy/Boeing 757.

    Simplified: If you're taking off behind a Heavy/B757 from anywhere other than the Heavy's end of the runway, you're getting 3 minutes.

3 Minute Holds (Waiverable / Timed from Aircraft Rotation):
  • Small behind a Large or Small behind a Small-Plus at an intersection - same or opposite direction.
  • Small departure from opposite direction behind Large departure or Large low/missed approach.

    Simplified: If you're taking off after a Small or Large from anywhere other than the other aircraft's end of the runway, you're getting 3 minutes... but you can waive it.

2 Minute Holds (Non-waiverable / Timed from start of Takeoff Roll):
  • Anything (Small, Large, Heavy) behind a Heavy/Boeing 757 that's departing from the same runway end the Heavy started its takeoff roll from.
  • Parallel runway departures where the flight path of a departing aircraft will take it through the flight path of a Heavy/Boeing 757 departing ahead of it from the parallel runway.
  • Departure from intersecting runways following a Heavy/Boeing 757 if the Heavy's runway intersects the departure's runway.

    Simplified: If you're taking off after a Heavy, or your path will intersect with a Heavy - either in the air or on the ground - you're getting a non-waiverable 2 minute hold.
Situations that do NOT need Wake Turbulence separation:
These can all be cleared for immediate takeoff.
  • Small behind a Small (duh).
  • Small behind a Small-Plus
  • Small behind a Large
  • Small-Plus behind a Large
  • Large behind a Small
  • Large behind a Small-Plus
  • Large behind a Large
VFR Arrivals

After the Wake Turbulence lectures, we started learning more about the tools needed for maintaining proper VFR separation and managing traffic flow. Examples include "MAKE RIGHT THREE-SIXTY" and "CONTINUE DOWNWIND".

Included in this was the happy-fun of Same Runway Separation. This covered Cat I, II, and III separation minimums, which varied depending on which type of aircraft was landing and/or taking off.

Today's Note: Red Earth Festival is coming this weekend. I'm psyched. I have a thing for native cultures and art, so I'm looking forward to checking out the different exhibitions, music, performances, and what-not. I'll be in class for its first day (Friday the 1st) but I'll definitely be checking it out over this coming weekend.

Weekend Two: Pistols, Pirates, and Idiot Sticks

Fairly busy weekend here.


Kelly and I'd made plans to go shooting today. She came by in the early afternoon (after braving 1 hour Walmart lines to get a cleaning kit for her pistol) and we set out to the range. H&H Gun Range is just down the street from me (south of Reno, just east of Meridian) and we set up shop there for a little bit. Kelly brought her .45 out and laid waste to a paper silhouette. I don't think he's going to be having any silhouette kids anytime soon...

It felt good to take the Makarov out again. I hadn't shot it in about a year, so it was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. I won't win any points for bullseyes, but I was happy with the results at 30 feet:

And here's the Mak itself:

The craziest part of the whole deal is that the range only cost $9.50... for the entire day! Back in Miami, Ace's charges $15.00 per hour. Un-freaking-believable.

Afterwards, we grabbed something to eat and came back to my place. The music came on and we just mellowed, cleaning the guns. It was pretty funny, as Kelly's gun has about 25 separate parts... and the Makarov breaks down into two. I was done cleaning my entire gun by the time she was finished with the barrel of hers.

We met up with Matt afterwards in the outdoor park here and studied a bit for the Block test that's coming up on Tuesday morning. It was a beautiful day and it didn't feel right to be cooped up inside.

Afterwards, the three of us headed down to Bricktown to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Awesome movie. It was a lot more action-oriented than the previous two. Parts 1 and 2 were much more comedic and focused, while this one kind of careened all over the place. It's a hell of a ride and a good closer to the series, but I think it's the weakest of the three. It had some really amazing action set-pieces (the climactic battle has to be seen to be believed. but overall it's story was weaker and a bit more forced. Also, Jack - who in the first two was a driving force to each film - just kind of takes a back seat to all the action, occasionally chiming in to deliver a one-liner. Keira Knightley still looked smoking hot though... and that made everything ok! :)


Got more progress done on the TED Center videos for Cynfyn. I finally got some music tracks down that work with the presentation. Two of the five segments are good to go, and I've been plugging away at #3 and #4. The After Effects animations on this pass look much better than the earlier ones - I'm happy.

Overall I like video, but it can be a real pain in the ass when it wants to be. Like with any long-term project, I'll be glad to see its conclusion.


We had our first at-home set of runs today. Matt, Paul, Kelly, and Joanna came over for a while. We went over a lot of the phraseology, using the callsigns they had provided to us at the academy. It was good to actually say it out loud instead of just reading it. We also practiced stripmarking using the strips I'd printed up. We went over many of the procedures required for taxiing aircraft, working with helicopters, and getting a workable flow of traffic into and around the airport. We weren't very organized, but that was fine. The next session will be even better I think.

One thing we touched on was runway crossing coordination between Local and Ground. At the Academy, Ground has a big ugly yellow metal bar that has "Runway Occupied" written on it. It is used in coordination with Local Control to let them know the runway is occupied. In ATC parlance, this sort of device is called a "memory aid". In the real world, we call it the "Idiot Stick", because it makes you look like a total moron when you forget to use it.

I made my own at-home version, lovingly called the "Dumbass Stick".

Here's how the runway crossing procedure works: Let's say you're Ground, and you want to taxi an aircraft across Runway 16, an active runway, at the taxiway Bravo intersection. Here's how the dialog goes:

You (to Local): "Cross runway one-six at Bravo."
Local: "Cross runway one-six at Bravo."
You hand the Idiot Stick to Local, and he puts it within view on his strip bay. This is to remind him not to land or depart any aircraft on that runway, since it is now occupied.
You (to the aircraft): "Cessna one-seven-two-papa-tango, cross Runway one-six".
Aircraft responds and then taxis across the runway. You observe that the aircraft has completely crossed the runway edge.
You (to Local): "Runway 16, RCC (short for Runway Crossing Complete)"
Local hands you back the Idiot Stick, and runway 16 is back in operation.

It's not overly complicated, but like everything else in ATC, once you start getting busy it gets cumbersome to remember to do it all. Losing coordination and losing the flick will get people killed, and in this business the devil is certainly in the details. However, sometimes the errors are simply so glaringly obvious you have to wonder what the person was thinking.

There was one person who failed her Local PV because of a stupid mistake involving runway crossing coordination. Ground coordinated a crossing of runway 16 with her. Then, just as she finished telling Ground she could cross the airplane, she cleared an airplane to takeoff on the same runway. Bam. Deal.

I think our next at-home runs will be more coordinated. I was talking with Kelly about maybe having a few people on dedicated ground and/or local for a while, instead of switching back and forth every few "planes".

Some quick phraseology snippets of commonly used commands:

Taxiing an aircraft from Spartan Aviation to the intersection of 28R and Charlie, with hold-short instructions at one-six:

A VFR popup calls in 7 miles east:

Calling for IFR release:

Landing Aircraft on 28L:

Anyways, that's it for today. Pretty good weekend. I wish Mary was here though...

Today's Note:
I started watching Heroes. Wow, interesting show. I really like how it focuses 90% of its energy on the characters (at least so far in episodes 1 - 3). They're realistic people... who just happen to have superpowers. Very different than the typical comic book superhero whose character is actually defined by their abilities.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Hot Wheels Airport

"Cessna Four-Kilo-Bravo, Academy Tower, runway Two-Eight Right, cleared to land. Traffic, housefly on left base, runway Two-Eight Left."

We got some airports and plastic planes to take home today and practice over the weekend.

I also made myself some laminated strips and got some dry-erase markers. For four markers and six laminated sheets (total 48 strips) it came out to $15 at Office Depot. Not bad for something that's infinitely reusable.

We also got a list of some of the common callsigns we'll be seeing, so we can use them on our stripmarking and get familiar with them.

I'm heading out in a few to go meet some of the class at Cimarron's steakhouse over on Meridian. I'll be back on later to finish the post and catch up on what else we did today...

Day 9: Wind Shear Advisories in Effect

Today's Lessons
  • Ground Movement
  • Wind Shear/LLWAS
  • Local Control
I'm kind of tired today, so I'm not going to into too much detail about these.

Ground Movement was pretty straightfoward. It just covered basic taxi instructions, with an emphasis on getting proper read back. Always keep an ear out in case an aircraft doesn't read back a hold short instruction, or says "28L" instead of "28R". A girl failed her PV because of the latter. Always remember: a stupid mistake like that can get someone killed.

LLWAS covered the different systems and procedures required for handling Low Level Wind Shear. It included the actual hardware, the phraseology for the ATIS (the title of this post), and what the local controller is supposed to do when wind shear is detected.

Lastly... Local Control dealt with coordination procedures, military takeoff procedures, safety alerts, traffic advisories, runway visual range, position and hold, and much more. As you can imagine, Local has a pretty hefty amount of information.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Day 8: Better Start the Shower...

...things are about to get dirty! We're ramping up towards the move into the labs. The next few days will see us bouncing back and forth from classroom to labs, so everyone's getting excited.

Today's Lessons
  • Block Test #2
  • General Control
  • Position Relief Briefings
  • Ground Control
We started the day off with Block Test #2. I scored a 91% on it. Not bad - I missed three, and one of them was a stupid mistake. Oh well.

General control covered broad subjects like duty priorities, traffic advisories, safety alerts, military operations, and TCAS resolution advisories. It was just a lot of procedural stuff, not really anything specific.

One of the most important things it did cover was the format for reporting traffic alerts. That is absolutely key to success in the Academy airport environment, since you've got two parallel runways with simultaneous aircraft operations.

For instance, let's say you have United 482, a Boeing 767, on a four mile final for 28R and a Beechcraft Baron N30144 turning base for 28L. Your traffic calls would go something like:
To put it simply, if there's any chance that two aircraft will become a factor for each other, make the traffic call and make sure they know where they are in relation to each other.

For Position Relief Briefings, we went over the four-step procedure for a controller to relieve another controller. Basically, it's 1) Preview, 2) Verbal Briefing, 3), Assumption of Responsibility and 4) Review the Position. To summarize the entire lesson, do not rush and do not leave anything out. Be clear, concise, patient, and ask/answer questions. Both parties share responsibility, so both need to do it right. There is a checklist for it - USE IT.

Ground Control is looking pretty fun and challenging. Taxi the airplanes, ensure they have the weather, mark the strips with the runway they're heading towards, and - above all else - maintain coordination with Local. That is the whole key to it: coordination. The Academy airport is setup to force you to coordinate, since all of the east/west taxiways cross the diagonal active runway (16/34). I really need to start working hard on the phraseology for it, such as "CROSS RUNWAY 16 AT BRAVO" and "RUNWAY CROSSING COMPLETED". Exciting stuff - at Miami Dade I only worked Local and supervisor, so this will be the first time I touch Ground.

On another note, our instructor kept reporting on another class who was PV-ing. Apparently 5 or 6 out of the 24 failed and had to retake. He said that their instructor was going to come by tomorrow to give us the low-down on what they did wrong.

Plans for the weekend are already in the works. I might go shooting with Kelly, so I picked up a few odds and ends so I can clean the ol' Mak. (It hasn't been cleaned since, wow, last year? Meh, it's Russian. It'll work fine, LOL.) I'm also trying to get a group together to go see the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Today's Note: Man, as much as I hate Walmart, it is quite funny the collection of crap you can walk out of there with. I went in there today to get some odds and ends, and walked out with:
  • New spatula (to replace the one I annihilated a few posts ago)
  • Gun cleaning kit
  • Pistol targets
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Shaun of the Dead DVD
  • Mexican cheese mix
  • Refried beans

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day 7: Happy Hour

Today's Lessons
  • FDIO
  • ATIS
  • Clearance Delivery

Right off the bat we continued with FDIO, working on a batch of exercises that showed us how to create, amend, and remove flight plans, along with printing their strips and sending departure messages to other facilities. This was actually pretty cool. I'm kind of techie, so it was neat to learn how FP's are managed in the field. It was pretty easy once you learned the codes (which were easy on their own) and the fields.

The fields were in typical flight plan order.
  • 01 is the command code (i.e. what you want to do to the flight plan). For instance, AM = Amend Flight Plan, SR = Strip Request (print strip), RS = Remove Flight Plan....
  • 02 is the Aircraft ID (N12365, AAL745)
  • 03 is the aircraft type (C172/A, B744/R)
  • ...04 beacon code, 05 speed, 06 departure fix, 07 proposed departure time, etc...
For instance, to change AAL745's type to a Boeing 767-200 and proposed departure time to 1330Z, you would enter:

AM AAL745 03 B767/2 07 P1330

... and BAM. Done. Easy.

This is an old-school FDIO machine:

After we finished the FDIO exercise, it was on to the wonderful world of ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service). I've heard a million and one ATIS broadcasts during my time as a pilot, so it was (somewhat) interesting to hear how they're made. Overall, the lesson was pretty boring and involved a lot of discussion of antiquated equipment. I did find out some fun facts - for instance, while I had always thought that the ATIS is recorded every hour, it turns out it's recorded whenever there's a weather update or a NOTAM released.

Afterwards, we went down to the tabletop lab and messed around with the equipment there. In that system, there's no actual piece of ATIS gear - it's all a software simulation of the real thing. I tried my hand at it, but for some reason got a little tongue-tied, giving me the kick in the ass I need to work on my annunciation and vocal presence.

Then came Clearance Delivery. We're going to be spending 7 days in the tabletop labs, which is the only lab where we will have an actual C/D position open. The TSS and Tower3D labs have only Ground and Local control positions, so this is really the only place where we will be doing Clearance Delivery before heading to our facilities. You're not specifically graded on Clearance Delivery, but your performance directly impacts the Ground and Local Control positions since your stripmarking and clearance operation needs to be on the money. In short, you do not want to be the one slowing down the show.

As with the two other positions, you have to manage your strips well and have Academy-specific procedures to fulfill. For instance, when you deliver an aircraft's clearance, you have to put a checkmark in block 13 of the strip. And once the aircraft has taken off, you need to send a departure message to Academy Approach letting them know and put a checkmark in block 18 saying you've done so. Aside from that, there's a bunch of duties you need to be taking care of, such as entering/modifying flight plans and managing the ATIS.

After work, I hit the Walnut Gardens Happy Hour with a classmate (after studying for tomorrow's block test of course... :) ). Every Wednesday they throw down a free beer keg-fueled "Happy Hour" for the folks staying at FAA housing places. This time they had nachos instead of the usual pizza up in the back lounge area. The "cheesy meat dip" looked rather mysterious, but ended up being pretty good. Whatever - the price was right.

Today's Note: None... Sleep deprivation sucks. I'm turning in early tonight to catch up on the sleep I've been missing over the past few days. This 5:15am alarm is killing me...

Picking Cacti Out of the Landing Gear

My dad sent me this video today of a harrowing landing in Honduras. Remind me never to visit this place - ever.

Insane Landing In Honduras - Watch more free videos

It put me on a search for some more harrowing landings.

Here's one into Funchal, on the island of Madeira. The airport's runway is partially built on a massive series of pylons extending out into the ocean. It is essentially a giant concrete aircraft carrier, capable of handling most large airliners.

This is a nice combination exterior and cockpit video:

But nothing beats Saba. Unofficially the world's shortest runway with scheduled airliner traffic, and officially closed (Winair and any other airlines are required to have a waiver in order to fly into it), it is essentially a strip carved into the side of a Caribbean volcano. 1000 feet long, it is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs. Only STOL aircraft can safely use it.

Here are a couple great cockpit videos:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Day 6: Strips and Spatulas

Today's Lessons:
  • Tower Visibility Test
  • Block Test 1
  • Academy Airspace
  • Strip Marking
  • FDIO
Today we took our first actual tests. First up was the National Weather Service exam for Tower Visibility. 50 questions covering the subjects we learned yesterday, like prevailing visibility, variable visibility, and tower/surface visibility. I ended up with a 94%, which I was very happy with.

Afterwards, we took Block Test 1, which covered mostly things we'd learned last week. I got a 100 on that, mostly on luck since there were a few questions out of the 20 that I wasn't really 100% sure on. Whatever the case, it's a good start to the course.

We then covered the Academy Airport airspace. This actually has a lot of memorization. The material included instrument approach procedures, VFR reporting points (aka landmarks), navaids (VOR, Markers), and - horror of horrors - airways. The airways were a pain - I can only imagine what the En Route guys go through to memorize their area charts.

Stripmarking was cool. I'd never actually done it at Miami Dade, so it was good to learn the symbols and the Academy-specific procedures. Nothing too complicated it seems.

Lastly, we started our FDIO (pronounced Fido, like the dog) lessons. FDIO is Flight Data Input/Output. In short, it's the system that allows you create, modify, delete, and print flight plans and their associated strips. Apparently it's a very common system in towers that interfaces with an ARTCC host computer. The guy who was teaching it was fun and tried to make this very dry material interesting. Part of me was bored to tears, but at the same time I was happy to get my curiosity satisfied as to how flight plans are created.

Today's Note: I have discovered today that plastic melts. Just ask the spatula I used to scrape the burger remains off my brand new grill pan. I guess I've just been used to these quality ones we had back at the house. Whatever the case, the poor spatoola was reduced to:

And my poor formerly spanky-new grillpan has melted plastic all over it.... :(

Day 5: It Ain't Rocket Surgery!

Week two begins...

Today's Lessons:
  • Tower Visibility
  • Airport Conditions, Uses, and Lighting
  • Academy Airport Layout
Today was mostly about Tower Visibility. Tomorrow we have the actual National Weather Service exam for it. This test was one of the Great Mysteries of the courses, simply because no one could really explain it. It requires an 80% to pass, and people have been known to fail it, so quite a few people were worked up over it.

It actually turned out to be pretty straightforward, with a few caveats. What it boils down to is you need calculate the highest visibility for half of the horizon. Let's say to the north you've got 5 miles visibility, 4 miles visibility to the south, and 3 miles to the east and west.

So, let's reason it out:
  • You've got 25% of the horizon at 5 miles, so it doesn't equal half.
  • However, match it up with the 4 miles and that means that at least half of the horizon has 4 miles visibility (25% has 4 and 25% is over 4), so you can claim 4 miles of prevailing visibility.
  • You can forget about the other two sectors which were at 3, since you've already got a prevailing of 4 from the other 50% of horizon.
Bam - prevailing visibility of 4 miles.

It's also got a lot more rules involved. For instance, if 3 of 4 sectors are over VFR minimums, but one is under, then you need to list all of the sectors in the remarks - except for those that match the prevailing visibility. Confused yet? :P

Example: North visibility is 5, East is 7, South is 5, and West is 2. In your METAR weather observation, you would then put:

5SM .... RMK VIS E 7 W 2.

Explanation: West is below 2 miles visibility, so we automatically need to mention the sector visibilities in the remarks. Since North and South equal the prevailing visibility, you can leave them out. However, since East and West differ from the prevailing, you need to include them in your remarks.

We also covered Variable Visibility, which boils down to averaging measurements, and Tower/Surface Visibility. There are rules for them as well, but I won't bore you with the details.

None of it is overly challenging. You just need to pay attention to the rules and apply them.

The lessons afterwards covered the airport layout and airport conditions/usage. The Academy Airport (AAC) is pretty straightforward, with a few bottlenecks and niggles to keep things interesting.

Today's Note: Rocket Surgery! Russ, our lead instructor, was explaining something simple and said "It's not rocket surgery...". I thought it was funny as hell... what's funnier is that I can't remember what the hell he was talking about when he said it. I'll have to use that line somewhere.... :(

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend One


Today was a pretty quiet and relaxing day. I actually slept in past 9:30am - not surprising considering that for an entire week I'd been getting up at 5:15am.

For lunch, Mary and I hit our favorite Mexican place, On The Border. As always, the food was plentiful and cheap, and we had a really good server.

After dropping the leftovers back at the apartment, we went down to the Bricktown area. Bricktown is essentially the hotspot in OKC, with movie theatres, nice restaurants, clubs, and bars. Not exactly South Beach, but it's got some charm with its busted, battered brick buildings (enough "b's?") and downtown backdrop.

We ended up seeing Shrek the Third. It was pretty amusing, but I've got to agree with a lot of reviewers who've said that they simply tried to throw in too much. They've gathered too many characters over the past two movies, and now feel compelled to bring them all back. The end result is a movie called Shrek where Shrek himself has maybe 1/2 to 1/3 of the screentime and the plot has been reduced to "Get Arthur and come back". It was a better second sequel than Spiderman 3 (which was just a sloppy disaster) but after this I don't really want to see Shrek IV.

Afterwards, we spent the rest of the day back at the apartment hanging out and spending time together. Dinner was a reheat of lunch's leftovers and a healthy dose of popcorn. We watched Anger Management with dinner - my God does Jack Nicholson need a beating in that movie.

Today's Note: Parents, for the love of all that is good and holy, please do NOT bring your 5 month old infant to the movies. The kid can't even say "mama" yet and you're somehow expecting it to miraculously follow plot points and understand dialogue? I understand that kids learn a lot by watching movies and TV, but when your child has not yet learned to control its own neck you might just be jumping the gun. Save us the annoyance and leave your screaming bundle of joy with the sitter.


I took Mary off to the airport this morning at around 4:30am. It was a horrible feeling, watching her head out through the security line. I honestly don't even really want to talk about it. The few days apart we've had over the years have been hard enough - but 3 months? I don't really have words for it- I just miss her so terribly...Thankfully she got in safely and her parents picked her up.

I spent the morning hanging around the house. Later on, Kelly from my class came by and we went to the Sooner gun show at the OK City Fair Grounds. She drives this huge red Toyota pickup truck, but handles it like a small car. It was such a shocking change to be in a car with *gasp!* power locks and *shock!* power windows after driving my P.O.S. Cavalier for a week.

Anyways, we picked up some ammo and I got a new case for my Makarov. There was really nothing else - all the good stuff had been sold over the previous couple of days, so all that was left was the dregs. All-in-all it was actually a pretty disappointing show. Afterwards, we headed over to a Chinese buffet place and grabbed some lunch, and she dropped me off back at the apartment.

Mary got on the webcam later on and we talked for a while. At least we're able to see each other. Webcams may be considered old technology now, but there's still something magical about not only hearing your loved one, but being able to see each other. Smile together, laugh together, watch TV together (as always, it's fun to pick apart Rachael Ray), etc. It's not the same as having her here, but.... it's something.

I made my first on-my-own meal tonight: Gnocchi in pink sauce. I made a heck of a mess in the kitchen, but whatever - I had enough for dinner and the following day's lunch. I unfortunately made too much sauce, and even after sopping some of it up with bread I ended up having to toss some. Oh well...

Today's Note: What the hell were a B-47 and B-52 fuselage doing sitting in the middle of a County Fair parking lot? Seriously, no joke. I wish I'd had my camera with me. They looked like crap, lying on the ground with no wings, but they were there. You can see them clearly here.

Here's an old picture, while the B-47 was still intact.
Being Oklahoma, I had expected to see plenty of cars up on concrete blocks... but Cold War jet bombers? Wow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

So the Adventure Begins...

Well, started training yesterday in Oklahoma City.

Day 1: Handshakes and Paperwork

It was a long day of paperwork and indoctrination.

The coolest part is that, as of around 11am May 15th, I can say that I am officially both a Federal Employee and an Air Traffic Controller (I'll just leave off the "in training" part for now. :) )

Day 2: Introductions

The first two days have been full lots of administrative stuff that's, well, kind of dry - benefits, life insurance, travel reimbursement, etc.. The best part by far has been meeting new people.

Most of the students are excited and looking forward to getting into the meat of the training. There are, however, a couple students who are very bummed out about being sent to high cost of living areas and are thinking of quitting. One woman was being sent to a Level 7 seasonal terminal in an area where the average home price is in the $ millions. The cheapest place she can find is a $1400/month room in a basement...with no kitchen.

For the Miami Dade folks, I've seen a whole bunch of alumni here for both Terminal and En Route in various stages of training.

Here's a quick list:

* Greg Weinbrum
* David Brookman
* Tuvar Akio
* Michael Shmeisser (sp?)
* Shawna
* Don Ellington
* Shulji (sp?)

There's two more guys that I know by face, but not by name.

Day 3: Tetris With a Career Attached

Today I retook the AT-SAT with my class. It's part of CAMI's research initiative, and only moderately less painful than being hugged by an Iron Maiden. I scored a 91% on, a few points lower than my previous 94% score. Not bad, considering I spent most of the Letter Factory test trying to keep from falling asleep (literally).

For those not in the know, the LF test is similar in concept to Tetris: you have to put the right pieces in the right place. The difference is:
  • The "pieces" in this case are the letters A, B, C and D coming down on four conveyor belts.
  • Each letter is one of three colors, and needs to be placed in a box of the matching color.
  • Only one letter of each time can go in each box.
  • Every once in a while, a letter other than ABCD comes down and you need to push a "Quality Control" button to remove it.
  • When you run out of boxes, you need to order more.
  • After each run-through, the computer asks you a bunch of situational awareness questions. (Ex: What letters would have been needed to fill the boxes you currently had open?)
I remember the first time I took this test, back in Miami. It was like an 8 hour heart attack, plugging through the math, angles, scan test, etc., hoping to come out on the other end with a passing score and a checkmark on my path to ATC.

Day 4: Fun with Weather Products

Today was all about tower equipment and weather products.

Curt, one of our A-leads, gave us a rundown of all the different equipment we'll be using in the tower. Frequency selectors, lighting controls, ILS monitors, wake turbulence timers and other things featured in the lecture. There's a lot of toys up in the tower, and by the time he was done I had a good grasp of how they all worked. Afterwards, we got to go over to the table-top lab and see the different pieces of equipment in person.

Following the Tower Equipment lesson (and lunch) we met our weather instructor, who's a former AFSS-er and doesn't do a very good job of hiding his bitterness towards the FAA over the takeover of Flight Service by Lockheed-Martin. I can't blame him.

The first part of his session involved discussion of numerous weather products. Many of them are familiar from my flying (METARs, TAFs, Area Forecasts, HIWAS) but it was definitely interesting to see the other side of things. I had never given much thought to how these products were generated, but thanks to this class now I know the different requirements for each. It's a lot of info and somewhat tedious, but at the same time it's useful in a "fun fact" sort of way.

The second part of the lesson was a CBI course on the ASOS automated weather reporting system that's used on most airports to determine the weather. Now, I'm big into technology and all that, and it was cool to learn how to generate METARs/SPECIs and transmit them to FSS. The problem was the presentation itself. It was extremely frustrating in that you couldn't skip ahead, and you had to sit there and listen to very repetitive instructions. For instance, whenever you had to actually type in remarks for a particular report (say, RMK TORNADO 3SE MOV NE ) it would launch into a 1.5 minute spiel on how to enter text into the text box. And it would do it for every instance! For instance, the reports for Tornado, Thunderstorms, Hail, Volcanic Ash, and Virga are very similar. And each time, you had sit there while the thing babbled on about how to physically type the remarks.