Sunday, September 07, 2008

Radar in Pictures

When you're trying to explain to someone what a radar controller does, it can get a little confusing. I mean, everything on a radar scope is essentially abstract.

You're not looking at airplanes, you're looking at targets. No wings, no engines, no noise - just little "/" parading around the scope. Tagging along with these targets are these blinking, changing data blocks comprised of strange numbers and letters. These targets and data blocks are moving all over the place, many of them on collision courses. You may know they're all separated vertically by altitudes, but to the outsider they're depicted on a flat two-dimensional screen.

And what about the rules? Lateral separation. Vertical. Longitudinal. 5 miles at 40 miles from the antenna. RVSM. Divergence. Quite a lot to digest.

I mean, seeing one data block with a 220 in a field passing directly over one with a 210 in the same field just seems so boring. I know it put my wife and sister to sleep when they visited my facility a few months back. But as a controller or trainee, you know that's two airplanes full of people that just crossed each other by less than a 1/5th of a mile at a closing speed of 900 knots.

So, here's a few photographic "visual aids" to help out the imagination.

Note: The "contrail" images were shot with extremely long lenses - 600mm to 800mm - which makes the aircraft appear much closer than they really are. I can't recall the technical term for it, but the longer the lens, the more compressed the perspective. In other words, they look close, but they're not that close!

Crossing paths at altitude. Vertical separation.
Source: Steve Morris

Parallel approaches into SFO. Visual separation.
Source: Peter Kesternich

Similar photo, but from the outside.
Source: Boyspot

Vertical separation, parallel courses.
Source: Steve Morris

Beautiful shot, with increased vertical separation.
Source: Alex Fabeck

At least 5 miles lateral separation. Opposite direction. Nearly same altitude.
Source: Krzysztof Malek

That 1000 feet of vertical looks awful close.
Source: Ander Aguirre

So, there you go. Radar controlling in photos.

No comments: