Firstly, none of it is "busywork". Everything you do has a purpose. Secondly, you do a lot more than just sit there and talk to airplanes. Between stripmarking , ARTS command entries, inter-facility coordination, and intra-facility coordination, you've got a lot to do. The faster you get it done, the better off you'll be. I've actually found the off-frequency work to be one of the biggest challenges I've faced.
Let's run through a very simple morning session at Whiting NAS to the northeast of Pensacola. To start, let me give you some visual aids. As always, you can click a pic to blow it up larger.
Airspace: The area outlined in orange is the sector I've been training on. Depending on the workload, it can be split up into three scopes - the D (departures from NSE), the K (arrivals into NSE), and the Z (arrivals/departures from NDZ). But for the purposes of this blog post, let's assume the workload is relatively light and everything in there is combined up as one big sector.
The aircraft featured are:
T-34C Mentor: The entirety of North Whiting's fleet is composed of these little guys. Based off of the Beech Bonanza, the first one of these guys first took flight in 1948 (!!!). The models they're flying now are updated turboprop "C" models such as this one, but they're still pretty darn old. They cruise around 210 knots or so, but are being replaced by T-6 Texan II's which can hit 310 knots at altitude. The T-34C in the photo is actually from Training Air Wing Five, which is the North Whiting training unit (it says TAW-5 right underneath the tail).
TH-57 Sea Ranger: The Bell 206 in yet another of its many guises. These are the helos out of South Whiting.
The format: Anything that's an action will be in bold, anything that's in yellow is a radio call, and anything in green is a land line call. Also, you'll see [initials] quite often. For those who don't know, every time you make a land line coordination, you're supposed to end it with your initials as a form of verbal signature.
The setup: I've only got one plane on my scope right now, a T-34 - Red Knight 165 (RN165) - on a base leg to join a TACAN approach for Runway 14 into North Whiting.
- Me: "RN165, four miles from final approach fix, turn right heading 110, maintain 1700 until established on the final approach course, cleared TACAN Runway 14 approach. Circle to land runway 5."
- RN165: "[Reads back approach clearance.]"
- SH281, a VFR pop-up, checks in: "Pensacola Approach, Shooter 281, flight of two T-34s, over Brewton at 3500, with information Hotel."
- I look up at Brewton and see him up there at 3500.
- I type in "SH281" into the ARTS keyboard and press Enter. It generates a squawk code assigned to that callsign.
- Me: "SH281, Pensacola Approach, squawk 0101"
- I write SH281 on our traffic count pad, along with his arrival airport "NSE" = North Whiting..
- SH281: "Roger, SH281, squawking 0101."
- North Whiting tower calls on the shout line: "Departure, tower, non-tag, Blackbird 295." (A non-tag is an aircraft that's taken off without his transponder on or set to a wrong code)
- I spot the non-tagged primary target on my scope departing from the airport and observed it within 1 mile of the airport's departure end.
- Key up North Whiting tower's direct line.
- Me: "Blackbird 295, non-tag, [initials]" to acknowledge and unkey.
- I look up on my tab list of departing aircraft to see what code he should be on.
- Me: "Blackbird 295, Pensacola departure, radar contact. Check transponder on. Squawk 0142."
- BB295: "Pensacola departure, BB295, roger, radar contact. Recycling transponder. Squawk 0142."
- I observe SH281 has now popped up near his fix.
- Me: "SH281, radar contact 1 mile east of Brewton."
- SH281: "Roger, radar contact."
- I recall that SH281 is a flight of two. I type "H" and "M" and then click on SH281's target. This puts an "M" in the special modifier section of the datablock so that the tower will know that SH281 has Multiple aircraft.
- I observe that VV5E129 is flashing in my Activation List. He is the first one on the list, and therefore letter "A". Aircraft needing activation will typically be on specialized IFR or VFR flight plans and will have strips printed and ready for whenever they activate. Before they can take off, you need to activate their flight plans.
- I press the "F13" key, then "A", and press Enter. VV5E129 stops flashing.
- In front of me I have three columns of strips. To the far left are the unactivated "proposed" strips, to my immediate left are my activated strips, and to my immediate right are the aircraft that have actually taken off. I move VV5E129's now-activated strip over to my "activated" column of strips.
- I see that RN165 is established on the TACAN approach.
- Me: "RN165, contact North Whiting Tower."
- RN165: "Roger, RN165 switching."
- I observe BB295's callsign has popped up properly.
- Me: "BB295, Pensacola, transponder appears normal. Say altitude leaving."
- BB295: "Leaving 1100 for 4500, BB295."
- I verify that his Mode C readout is within 300 feet of what he's reporting.
- Me: "Roger."
- I observe that RN281, now well into his TACAN final, is getting a low-altitude alert (LA). Our regulations state that we need to inform Whiting tower of any LA alarms.
- I key up the Whiting Tower shout line.
- Me: "Tower, approach, low altitude alert, RN281, [initials]."
- Tower: "RN281, low-altitude alert, [initials]." and I unkey.
- I observe VV5E129 (the one I activated earlier) has departed North Whiting. I move VV5E129's strip to my "airborne" column. He is IFR and is requesting 5000 feet eastbound towards the Crestview VOR, and then on to Tallahassee. While most of my sector goes up to 5500 feet, the easternmost 5 miles of my sector only goes up to 3500. The airspace above (where VV5E129 needs to go) is owned by our "E" sector.
- I type "**E" and then slew and Enter on VV5E129. This action displays the aircraft on the "E" sector's scope.
- I key up the E sector on the landline.
- Me: "E, D, point-out."
- E: "E."
- Me: "1 mile north of Whiting, VV5E129, 5000, Crestview." That tells him:
- Where he is now.
- Who he is.
- How high he wants to go.
- Where he wants to go.
- I don't have to stop him at any interim altitude and can send him on his merry way.
- The handoff's already been initiated, so I just need to wait for Eglin to take it. Then I can switch him at my leisure.
- I don't have a useless strip distracting me 0n my desk.
- North Whiting launching a dozen T-34s going every which way, with half of them being non-tags that need to be deal with and the other half needing special instructions.
- Groups of T-34s recovering from all directions to North Whiting, with many of them wanting something special for an approach.
- Half a dozen helos and T-34s doing a roundy-round the GCA pattern down by South Whiting, requesting multiple PAR, ILS, ASR, or TACAN approaches.
- Four or five VFR pop ups off of Milton wanting to go to various practice areas.
- A dash of low-level GA departures out of the Pensacola East sector.
Hopefully the above example makes some kind of sense and gives you an idea of the paperwork/coordination involved both within and outside the facility.