Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Lay of the Land

N123: "Pensacola approach, N123"
Me: "N123, Pensacola approach, remain clear of class Charlie airspace. Say intentions."
N123: "Yeah, Pensacola, we're a Cessna 182 at 2500 over Milton airport. We'd like to take some pictures up at Bear lake, head down the Blackwater river, cut across Garcon Point, and then head up I-10 to Pensacola Regional for a full stop."
Me: "N123, Squawk 0111 and standby."
N123: "Roger, 0111, N123"
I lean over to my instructor or the controller next to me.
Me: "Uh, where's Bear Lake, the Blackwater River, and Garcon Point?"

Stranger in a Strange Land

I hate not knowing the answer to a question, especially when the person asking the question is depending on me for something.

A great many of us new hires were placed in facilities far away from home. Whether that's by choice or not depends on when we came into the FAA and how we came into it. When I came in, I could only pick by state and we had no option to turn down our assignment without threat of being booted out of the hiring pool. The fact is that we're now working in unfamiliar territory while working with many pilots who are local to the area.

I feel for the pilots in a way. Before they took off, they just got off the line with FSS and talked to a briefer who may have been a thousand miles away from the area he needs briefed. Based on the reports I've been hearing, many of those briefings are unreliable at best because the briefer simply isn't familiar with the area he's talking about. Now they're in the air and have to explain in detail what they want and where they want to go because the controller's unfamiliar with the local geography.

We Don't See What You See

One thing to keep in mind is that our radar maps don't exactly have names all over them. Airports are just symbols, fixes are just squares, and obstacles are just little ^ markers. The Midway Antenna may be a little tower icon on a sectional chart with lighting and height information next to it, but to us it's just a little ^ on a map covered in ^'s. We have to have its name, location, and related MVA memorized.

If you're a pilot and you've got a sectional chart in your lap, you've already got a ton more information that we do. Even the "Emergency" maps we can bring up on our scopes to show roads, rivers, etc. don't have any names listed on them. Without prior study, it all just looks like a bunch of unlabeled squiggly lines.

To try an alleviate this, I have studied the sectional and training area charts for our airspace. Also, when I go driving, especially on road trips, I pay attention to my surroundings. I've even driven by some of the outlying Navy fields just to get a close look at them. Eventually, once we get some money put away, I'd also like to take a flight around the area just to get a pilot's view of things. I haven't seen this area from the air since April 2007, when I flew up here to do some house scouting with my family.

I find that the more familiarity you have with the geography and cities within your area, the better you can work with the pilot. When a plane calls in over a certain landmark, it's great to know exactly what they're talking about. However, it can come in especially handy in situations involving lost pilots or emergencies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First I'd like to mention that I enjoy your blog and will be checking in frequently. As a recent new hire myself I can relate to what you write. I completely understand what you mean about the lay out of the land. I am a native of Pensacola and could visualize all of the points the pilot mentioned; unfortunately, I was given Amarillo, TX tower as my facility, only about an 18hr drive away, and I was completely lost when it came to the surroundings of the airport.
How much more sense would it make to have sent me to Pensacola instead of here. The sad thing is that the class behind mine at the academy had a guy going to Pensacola tracon. Probably an Amarilonian haha.