Saturday, June 09, 2007

Days 15 - 18: Tabletop Madness

I can't think of any way to describe the Tabletop experience other than a roller coaster ride.

The ascent: The academics are your foundation, showing you what the tools are. You know the labs are coming, so you try to absorb as much as possible. The days to the labs countdown and you're eager to get going, while still apprehensive about putting all of this information into action.

The big drop: The track drops away from your feet and you feel yourself falling helplessly. Your first day or so in tabletops will be the hardest. You will feel like you're being shotgunned with all kinds of feedback from the many different instructors. You will be told to do things 18 different ways by 18 different people, and some will tell you in a nice way, and others will irritate the hell out of you.

...and now back up: Whee! We're in a loop now, and we're feeling the wind on our face. The fear is gone and now we're enjoying the ride. Things are clicking now. You're making your wake turbulence calls. You're issuing traffic. You've had a one or two go-arounds and one or two "cancel takeoff clearance!" moments, but so far you're feeling good.

That's where I'm at now. The first few days were rough. However, on my last two tabletop runs I feel like I nailed it. I had two of the strictest, cockiest instructors on each of those runs, and they were pleased with my performance.

Several things continue to be a little bothersome, like wake turbulence advisories (not the actual 2 minute wait, but the advisories for landing aircraft of any wake turbulence issues) as well as the "Idiot Stick". I've gotten much better with the latter, but sometimes I get busy and forget to get or give that stick back so the runway's operational again.

For those who haven't gotten to the academy or who are still in Academics, here are some observations I've made about what to do/not do:
  • DO SOMETHING: If you see a situation developing, act! Tell someone to go around, extend downwind, etc. Take action and take control. You're in training to be a controller, not a spectator. The lab instructors hate it when you just sit there and watch things come apart. Analyze, decide, and ACT.

  • Justify Your Actions: Be able to explain everything you say and do. Your instructor's not exactly going to be thrilled if you told an airplane to do something "because you felt like it" (even if that's truly the case).

  • Plan Ahead: Don't just focus on what you have in your jurisdiction now. Try and get the picture of what's coming. If you're Local, keep an ear out for what Ground is doing and how many strips they're working with. A lot of those are coming your way. If you're Ground, keep an eye on how many airplanes are in the pattern, what type they are, and what runway they're going to.

    For instance, if you're on Ground and you see that Local's got got a Delta 757 who just called over the Final Approach Fix, a Cessna 172 landing on Runway 34, and a Bonanza who was doing touch and goes that just called for a full-stop, that's three airplanes you're going to be talking to very shortly. Try and get Local (if they're not too busy) to talk with them and see where they're parking. Just from the aircraft types, you've got at least one figured out: the Delta's going to the terminal. The other two will be going to either Falcon / Spartan FBO's or to the Main Ramp, so keep in mind if they're going to the main ramp you'll have to coordinate a crossing. If they're going to the FBO's, then life's easy - "TAXI TO SPARTAN AVIATION VIA GOLF" or "TAXI TO SPARTAN AVIATION VIA HOTEL". Bang, done.

    In other words, think ahead and keep your options open.

  • Be Patient: Not only with yourself, but with your classmates. If you're trying to get an airplane off the runway at Taxiway Delta, and your ground controller puts someone nose-to-nose with them for an intersection departure, don't get mad. You're both learning.

    Use it as as lesson for:
    1. Resolving a situation quickly and effectively.
    2. Learning how to better coordinate. For instance, after that, you can tell your ground "If there are anymore intersection departures, put them out through Charlie so they don't nose-to-nose."

  • Learn to Bite Your Tongue: Some of the instructors are very nice and very positive. I look forward to working with them. Others... they want you to do things their way, say things their way, and ONLY their way - no matter what anyone has told you. Just humor them.

  • Pad Management: The sooner you learn to manage your notepad, the better. I assure you that you will get 15 different ways of managing your pad. Find one that works for you, and keep it as simple as possible. I'll write more on this later.

  • Make Idle Chatter: I don't mean tell your life story and distract yourself from the traffic. However, chatting with your instructor during a lull in the traffic can help you relax and clear your head.

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