Friday, July 27, 2007

RTF Labs: Part 1

Ok, I'm back. Sorry about the long hiatus on RTF-specific posts. I've had a lot going on and frankly haven't been in a writing mood. Anyhow, let's cut to the chase.

Today's Subjects
  • Pre-test
  • Transmission Efficiency
  • Lab Problem Designs
We've been in the labs for exactly a week now. As with the Tower class, it's a steady ramp up of traffic. They start you off slow, with just a few amount of planes. Of course, if you've never done this before it feels like you're getting whacked with traffic left and right because you don't know what to say or what to do.

Actually, let me rephrase that. You have a good idea of what you want to say and do, but not exactly how or when to do it. Do I clear this guy for the approach now... or do I need to turn him? Will that F-16 climb fast enough to beat my American 123 even though the AAL has a head-start? Can I switch this guy to center now? You second-guess yourself a lot at first, but it gradually goes away.


The first thing you ever do in the labs is what they call the Pre-test, which is part of a process designed to measure your improvement. In short, what they do is throw you into the simulators with zero simulator time aside from the various part-tasks and academics you've been doing for the 9 days prior. You will invariably screw things up to some extent. The logs of what you did get recorded and stored. Then, later on in the program, your performance is compared to how you did on that problem.

The problem itself is not what I'd call difficult. However, it's similar to the Tower PV in that there's not a lot of traffic, but the traffic you DO have is going to require you to use all of your tools effectively. For instance, outside of the typical inbound airliners you'll get:
  • VFR pop-ups
  • Approaches into Bartles (ILS) and James (NDB) airports
  • ILS practice approaches into Academy
  • Mixed-type traffic into Academy (i.e. Boeing 767's following Cessna 182's on final)
  • Overflights
The idea is to throw everything at you, to see what sticks and what you need to work on. Most likely, you're going to feel pretty sheepish afterwards. The records are completely anonymous (the logs are recorded by station, not by name) so if you don't do well, it's can't be tracked back to you at a later date. The "scores" are averaged out.

Transmission Efficiency

As the problems get busier, you're going to need to pick up the pace. One of the easiest ways to do that is to combine transmissions. If you have DAL456 on downwind at 4,000ft. and want to turn him base and descend to 3,000ft., don't say, "DAL456, turn left heading 010." --Wait til he turns-- "DAL456, descend and maintain 3,000." That's two transmissions, and two responses you need to wait for. Instead, tell him "DAL456, turn left heading 010, then descend and maintain 3,000." That saves you a call and the pilot a call.

A side effect of breaking up transmissions is "tunnel vision". If you have to sit there and watch an airplane do something before you can tell them to do something, you're likely losing track of things going on elsewhere.

Lab Problem Designs

The problems in the labs are designed so well you'll hate them. They are created to systematically test your scan, your reasoning, and your phraseology by throwing a variety of situations at you while dragging your attention all over your scope.
  • Just when you have that Delta ready to turn final, a VFR pop-up will call you with a minute-long spiel about who, what, and where he is and what he's requesting. While he's drawling on, your airliner's plowing through the sky into your partner's airspace... and there's nothing you can do about it...
  • Right when you need to turn that Citation on his base leg inside the tiny Bartles shelf (view the airspace map in the previous post) you'll get a call from your partner requesting a point-out on the other side of the map, drawing your attention far away from where it should be. By the time you get back to your Citation, he's already busted Aero Center's airspace and you've got yourself an operational deviation.
  • Just when you're climbing your departure out to the northeast, Aero Center will call with a point-out who will want to descend right down on top of your departure.
The only thing I can say is roll with it and learn to prioritize. A good way to think about it is "Who's going to hurt me first?" The point-out 20 miles away from your airspace may need attention eventually, but not nearly as much as that 767 who's going to blow past the localizer and into that poor unsuspecting Cessna in your partner's downwind. If that happens, you've just earned yourself a two-for-one combo of an operational deviation and an operational error.

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