Monday, September 03, 2007

Testing in Progress

So far I've done well on all of my written tests. I scored 100% on the Frequency test and the Chart/Fixes test and did well on the Airspace and Identifiers. All that's left now are the approaches (48 of the things), and then the cumulative final exam.

They've already decided who my trainers are going to be. We'll be holding a training team meeting soon. If you recall from the first days from the academy, your Training Team consists of your Primary Instructor, Secondary Instructor, your crew Supervisor, and your facility Training Manager.

First IFR Day

In other news, I went upstairs on Friday and monitored for a while. It was my first time being up there on an IFR day and it was quite a different experience. The ceilings were low at 1100 feet, so we were running a pretty defined final compared to what normally occurs here.

Let me clarify that: at larger airports - the Miamis, the Altantas, the Memphises, etc. - they typically run looong finals (up to 30 miles) consisting of mostly airliners. From what I've heard, things are very procedural and somewhat predictable. Also, most of your traffic operates at similar performance values - 150 or 170 knots on the approach, most are large or heavies, and most are "professional" pilots.

For instance, this is a photo my classmate Bryce took where he works at Louisville, KY of a long line of flights coming in:

We'd never see this here. I'm in no way saying either one is better or worse. All I'm saying is that it's simply a different type of operation.

With our mix of traffic, things are a bit looser, more random due to the varied types of aircraft we're working. It makes it challenging to have a really clear final. It's not disorganized; it's just not immediately obvious when you look at it for the first time. After a while, when you start learning what each aircraft can do, you can look at a scope and start figuring "Okay, that's number 1, that's number 2, and that's number 3" even though they're all coming from three different directions.

On Friday when I sat down to monitor the Pensacola Regional sector, we had the following inbounds:
  • T-34 (Navy's single engine prop trainer) 5 miles to the northeast.
  • A southbound Cessna 172 to the northeast, maybe 10 miles out.
  • ERJ-145 descending to 6000 from the northeast 20 miles out.
  • CRJ-200 following from the northwest also dropping to 6,000 at 25-30 miles out.
Due to the low cloud deck, you had to establish the aircraft on the final approach around 8 miles out (5 miles to the approach gate + 3 miles additional due to low clouds). The Cessna's much closer than the regional jets, but much slower. In addition, there's priority in numbers: a couple people in a Cessna vs. 100 paying passengers on the RJ's. Plus, you have to take into account that the T-34, while a pretty fast airplane in cruise (200+ knots) essentially dies on final. He may be going 150 knots on the base, but if you stick an MD-88 close behind him at 150 knots everyone's going to be pretty surprised when the T-34 sucks it back to 90 knots and winds up as a brand-new hood ornament.

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