Friday, October 31, 2008

Busy Day...

It's the new fiscal year. What does that mean? Well, apparently the Navy's received some more gas money. They flew the hell out of us today. And yesterday. And the day before.

Today I sat down to work the North Whiting sector, and both times the Navy was jumping.

For normal Whiting course rules traffic, we use specialized traffic count sheets. They have a blank column in the middle where we write down the call sign (RN047, SP641, MX047), a column on the left with departure airports, and a column on the right for arrival airports. They're designed to keep us from having to fill out a flight progress strip for every single aircraft. The sheet looks like this:

So, let's say a T-34 calls us up: "Pensacola Approach, Red Knight 641 at Conecuh River Bridge, off of OLF Brewton, with information Victor." He said he took off from Brewton airport, so I check off "12J" - Brewton's identifier - in the left column. In the middle, I write "RN641" for the call sign. On the right column, I check off "NSE" for North Whiting, his destination. There, now we have accurate count. We do this only for T-34's who wants the course rules in or out of Whiting. For overflights, practice approaches, etc. we use regular strips.

Each sheet has space for ten aircraft. I filled up about seven or eight of them in each session. Keep in mind, those sheets are only for NSE course rules traffic. That's not counting IFR departures or arrivals, civilian overflights, T-34s inbound wanting practice approaches, or T-34s going cross country. It was much busier than it's been lately.

For the Pilots

I know some Navy pilots read this blog, and I'd just like to say: please be patient with us. We want to work with you and provide you service. However, we have a hierarchy of priority we need to deal with. We never ignore pilots, but sometimes we just need to take care of other things before we get to you.

To Blackbird 123: I've heard you call at Conecuh bridge. I see you out there squawking 1200 just northwest of the bridge and your Mode C showing 3500 feet. I really would like to get you squawked up and on your way home.

However, right now I'm dealing with:
  • A flight of two Red Knights who just departed whose transponder's inoperative and they're just a primary target.
  • My IFR T-34 on the TACAN final just had his LA-LA go off (Low Altitude alert) so now I need to call the tower on the shout line.
  • I have another T-34 on a base leg for the TACAN that I need to clear right now or else he's going to blow through the final.
  • A T-34 flown by a solo student just got lost and went to Point Initial instead of Point Charlie (i.e. he thinks he's landing runway 23 instead of 5).
  • Base ops screwed the hell out of Shooter 789's flight plan and now I'm trying to get our own Flight Data position to fix it.
  • I've got the Pensacola West sector in my ear asking for a point out on a helicopter who's going to clip my airspace.
  • I have a civilian Cessna 172 west of Whiting - who's on the victor frequency so the Navy birds can't hear him and keep talking over him - asking for flight following to Pensacola Regional.
  • I've got two overflights who just checked in, one who is about to fly right through the Whiting departure corridor at 3000 feet (i.e. most ungood).
  • And lastly, the tower just called me with approach requests for VV2E840.
All of these things were happening simultaneously today. When a T-34 calls inbound, I usually try to at least issue them a squawk. That A) let's them know I heard them and B) buys me some time so I can take care of other things since it normally takes about 30 seconds or so for the plane to tag up (15 seconds for the pilot to punch it in and two or three radar sweeps of 5 seconds each before the scope tags him).

Note that several of those things on the list involve me talking on the land lines to tower or to another sector. I might be chatting up a storm on my end, but you in the cockpit just hear dead air and no one responding. Or you hear the controller talking to a bunch of other airplanes whose responses you can't hear. Maybe you start thinking you've got the wrong frequency keyed up. Or maybe you think your radio's not receiving properly. I understand how that can be a little unsettling and/or annoying. I'm a pilot too, and if I was calling approach a few times with no reply I'd be thinking "WTF, over?"

When it gets to the point where I know I won't be getting to the inbounds, I just need to key up and say something ridiculous like "All inbound T-34s, stand by." and keep taking care of my business. Once I've taken care of what I need to do, then I'll go back and start picking the targets out. "T-34 just south of the bridge, say call sign." Squawk them. "T-34 three miles of the Chicken Ranch (a VFR reporting fix), say call sign." Squawk them. "Flight of T-34s north of Jay, say call sign." Squawk them. Then, once I've taken care of all the obvious ones, "Are there any other aircraft standing by?" I say the last, because there might be some who I missed or who are wanting something I don't expect, such as a T-34 who's wanting a practice approach or a Maintenance T-34 at Point Initial.

A Different Kind of Operation

I know the readers out there working at Atlanta and Miami and Chicago think it can't possibly be that hard. I don't pretend to think that the traffic we work here in any way competes with the complexity of feeding a billion airliners an hour to parallel approaches. You guys pump the airplanes in and out like nobody's business. Whiting is relatively simple air traffic control compared to that.

I obviously have no real point of comparison to other facilities, since this is the first place I've worked. That said, we have controllers here who came from LAX and other busy places who claim this is one of the most complicated places they've been. That takes into account our Pensacola Regional and NAS Sherman banks of scopes as well, not just Whiting.

Our operation here does have its own specific brand of difficulty. The four biggest problems on the Whiting NAS sectors are:
  • Frequency congestion: You typically have anywhere between six and thirteen frequencies keyed up at once if you're working Whiting combined up. A VHF/UHF for each of three sectors, a monitor frequency for the Lakes operating area, and up to six SFA frequencies used for the PAR or ASR approaches.
  • Volume: Whiting has 150 T-34s and a huge number of H-57s. When they get going, it's like Hitchcock's The Birds.
  • Learning Environment: Every aircraft we talk to is flown by a pilot in training. Most have an instructor on board to keep them from getting into too much trouble. There are times where the instructor will let them go too far and it makes things a little messy.
  • Airspace: We've got some badly chopped up airspace built up around our three Class C airports, requiring a huge amount of point-outs and other coordination.
What we're dealing with here is essentially the world's largest flight school, with an enormous volume of traffic. To give you an idea of this volume, fully 10% of the US Navy's global flight hours take place in our backyard. And that's just Whiting; that doesn't count NAS Sherman with its T-6, T-1, T-45, and Sabreliner squadrons.

I've met several Whiting pilots and I think they're some of the coolest, most professional, and patriotic people I've ever met. Of course, as with any flight school, they're learning their craft. We're talking pilots in high performance aircraft that have maybe a few hundred hours of flight time, not thousands like the guys in the left seat of a Boeing or Airbus. It gives it a higher level of unpredictability. Most of the time they fly well, but I've seen things go awry enough times to be very wary. It's not a bad thing; it's just the nature of the beast.

To add to the fun, the other side of the scope is learning too. We're talking about trainee controllers like myself who have only a few hundred hours of total time on position. A Boeing 747 captain has a wealth of experience to pull from versus the flight student who just passed his commercial check ride. Likewise, we have some time to go before we approach the capabilities and resourcefulness of the veterans who train us every day. Myself and several of the guys I work with are certified to work all of Whiting - North and South - on our own, but we're not at the level of the older guys. It takes time to build that level of finesse and confidence. It may take us a little longer to formulate a plan or understand what you mean. But we'll make it work, and over time it will get better.

And that's why, I tell you, it felt good today. Moving 160+ planes was pretty nice. I like it when it gets busy. It makes you more efficient, more proactive, and more confident.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloweenies

I hope everybody's Halloween is fun-filled and candy-coated. :)

While I'll be in my home dishing out candy to the neighborhood, a few lucky people "will be taking part in a historic event: the first commercial Zeppelin flight in the USA in over 70 years. Before anyone says "Hey, what about the Goodyear Blimp?" - the blimps are not Zeppelins. A Zeppelin has a rigid structure inside, while a blimp is for all intents and purposes a helium filled gas bag.

And, not only is Airship Ventures inaugurating touring airship flights, but they'll be doing it with one of my favorite bands: Abney Park. They're a steampunk band based out of the northwest. Their sound is very similar to a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack, blending modern elements (synthesizers and rock guitars) with traditional and world instruments (violin, darbuka) and both male and female vocals. Lyrically, they're somewhere between steampunk and goth, with plenty of references to airships, Nikola Tesla, automatons, and other steampunk staples. Their stage "persona" is that of a crew of airship pirates, so they've got the goggles and style to match.

I would have loved to have gone that flight, considering that:
  1. I'm a big fan of steampunk. My NaNoWriMo novel is steampunk-inspired.
  2. I'm a big fan of airships, The NaNoWriMo novel also heavily involves airships.
  3. Abney Park's members are all very cool and down to Earth. I met them at Dragon*Con a couple months ago and they were simply awesome.
But hey, I'll be doing it one better. My wife and I will be celebrating Halloween in our own home for the first time ever. And it feels great.

Here's a vid of the Zeppelin NT in Germany, before it made its trip over here:

If anybody's interested in some "off the beaten path" music, check out the Abney Park vids below. They were definitely a bit of an acquired taste at first, but I ended up becoming a big fan of their music.

"Airship Pirates" at Dragon*Con 2008

"Sleep Isabella"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ATC Hours

Apologies for the lack of posts. I've had a bunch of projects going on simultaneously that are eating away at my time (in a good way).

The biggest one is a web site I launched recently. It's called and is designed to help ATC trainees keep track of their OJT training forms. It's loaded with features that make it simple to calculate your position hours and view the status of your OJT reports.

I hope some of the folks reading this blog will be interested. Here's a little "textual infomercial" for it. :)

  • Overview
    Where I work, we train on a number of positions with a multitude of different instructors, and we're responsible for the accuracy and completion of all reports. Before ATCHours, many of the trainees here used Excel, text files, and even paper note pads to track their time, all of which brought their own problems to the table. I've seen Excel files get deleted by computer updates and note pads have near mid-table collisions with spilled cups of coffee. Missing a record or two from three weeks ago might force you to manually recalculate every total for every report during those three weeks. Then there was the question of finding out which reports had already been turned in and which were still outstanding.

    By creating a single feature-filled universal tracking tool, I felt it would make life easier for a lot of people around the country. That's where ATCHours comes in.
  • Features
    1. Access from any computer or web-enabled cell phones.
    2. Works with any type of ATC facility (tower, TRACON, ARTCC) and any number of positions and instructors.
    3. Log up to four records simultaneously, easily, and quickly using a simple web form.
    4. Run reports by position, date, and other criteria.
    5. See who you trained with on what day and on what position.
    6. Display position totals and daily totals.
    7. Log comments made by your instructors.
    8. Export your logs in MS Excel and PDF format for easy backup.
    9. Check off which reports you've filed with your supervisor and which you still need to get back from your instructors.
    10. If you transfer to a new facility, it's easy to separate your old facility's training hours from your new ones.
    11. Customize your settings to your facility.
    12. Server hosted on a trusted web host with frequent back-ups.
    13. Tested and used by existing ATC trainees.

  • How it Works and Looks
    When you first log in, you'll be greeted by your Overview page. This is your entire training record at a glance, showing your time on each position, your most recent 20 records, and your instructors.

    Clicking on the View All Hours link on the left takes you to the more detailed viewer page. On this page, you can filter your records by position, instructor, and date.

    Time to add new records. Just click the Add Hours menu item and you'll be taken to a page with four identical forms. Whenever you add a new record or change an existing one, all of your hours are instantly recalculated to reflect the update.

  • Extras and Widgets
    There are also several extras on the site that you can use on your blog or forum signatures to display your progress to the world.

    Time Tracker: A widget that you can install on your blog or web site that displays all of your positions and hours. You can see mine fully operational on the top right of my blog.

    Dynamic Banner: You can use this as your forum signature, on your MySpace page, and just about anywhere else you can display an image. Every time you update your hours, this image automatically updates, showing up to twelve of your positions.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    How much does it cost?
    Normally it costs a one-time fee of $15. This small fee helps cover our hosting costs, past and future development time, and maintenance.

    However, for readers of this blog, I'm offering a coupon that knocks $3 off that price, giving you a lifetime membership for only $12. Even if we change the rates later on, you'll never be affected and never have to pay again.

    When you're signing up, you'll see a box labelled Coupon Code. Just enter in the following code to get your discount: PENGUIN.

    How many positions/instructors/records/facilities can I add?
    Unlimited. The site is designed to work with all facilities, from the smallest VFR tower to the largest ARTCC. There are no limits.

    Will new features be added?
    Of course. We're always looking for feedback from our users. Several of our newest updates were suggested by site users.

  • In Closing
    If anyone has a question about the site, please feel free to comment here or drop me an e-mail. There is also a support form available on the web site here.

    If you like what you see, just click here to sign up! And remember, the Flying Penguin coupon code is PENGUIN.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hate Mail

Yay, I got my first bits of hate mail! Apparently some ex-USAF type from Eglin AFB next door to us decide to chime in on a few of my posts with some, err, colorful commentary of his own. I found it all quite enlightening.

I know, I know - don't egg the troll on. It only encourages them. But you know, having never been bashed like that, I decided to call him out on his claims.

1) The first comment (on LOA Hell)
"I was an Air Traffic Controller at Egin AFB. I was fully rated in Eglin Tower, Duke Field Tower, and all positions in the Eglin Radar Approach Control and Mission Control Facilities. I am also a pilot. "

Wow, really? OMG! Can I get an autograph?

Guess what. We have a guy here with all those same quals. Entered the FAA a year ago as a VRA. One big difference, though: he's not an asshole. Oh, and he knows how to spell Eglin right. Say it with me now: E-G-L-I-N. With an "L", like "Loser".

"This site is hilarious. You obviously have a lot of free time on your hands. Thanx for the laughs. It isn't that difficult goober. "

When myself and most of the other trainees started, we had basically no training department. Some of the other guys were lucky enough to get a quick course taught to them by one of the controllers. Me? Not so lucky - I arrived here about two months after the others. I was handed a book of LOAs, a CD with SOPs, and told to go read it and make sense of it.

So, I did, in my own way. I know Photoshop and 3D programs from my last job. I made sense of the material the best way I knew how: visually. A lot of the graphics I made on my own because there were not many materials to study. Instead of poring over a boring-ass LOA, why not convert it into a more easily accessible format? The same goes for this blog: I write about things here because A) I like to share the experience of training for those who are interested, and B) it helps me keep all this stuff straight.

Essentially, you're giving me shit for studying, taking initiative, and wanting to improve my abilities and knowledge.

Who's the "goober", exactly?

"Good Luck Geek. I hope you're not working me when I fly through."

And how am I a geek? Because I know how to use a computer for more than checking my MySpace and surfing porn sites? God forbid someone should have a skill other than binge drinking and lap-dance-receiving.

"But, you're probably one of those controllers that "has to use the bathroom" when the strip bay fills up...aren't ya?"

Two hours ago, my last session of the night, I had a full strip bay tonight on the right and a workspace full of strips in front of me. Dual full patterns at NAS Whiting North and South. A flock of dissimilar aircraft - fixed wing and helos - running around in the GCA pattern at South, each doing multiple PAR, ASR, ILS, and TACAN approaches. Multiple T-34s doing TACANs and GPS approaches at North. In the middle of that, a variety of popups for both fields requesting entries back home and multiple IFR departures headed either eastbound to CEW, westbound to Mobile, or south to Sherman NAS.

In addition, I was working around the airspace your fellows at Eglin took from us - MOA Alpha West and the three GCA areas (A,B, and C). That left me with about 30% less airspace than usual, knocking out my right downwind from South Whiting.

Funny. I don't remember getting any urge to tinkle.

Where there things I could have done better? Absolutely. But every inbound pilot got his approach requests and every departure got sent on their way cleanly.

I actually had quite a good time. See, I actually look forward to it getting busy. You don't get better by working slow sessions.
2) The Second Comment (on Things Gone Awry)
You are such a friggin goober. I worked Eglin with nothing...including radar! You probably have no idea what the hell non-radar means, do ya?

Man, you are a god. I bet you're the only controller in the whole wide world who's worked non-radar. That section of the 7110.65 was written especially for you.

I'm well aware of what non radar is, but frankly have not had the opportunity to use it very much. I've been a controller trainee for a year in a facility that has two independent ASR-11 radars and a CENRAP feed from Jacksonville Center. That means three separate radars need to fail for us to go non radar.

I've had to create the most basic kind of NR separation - 20 miles or 10 minutes - when Jax lost their LRR. We fed them 20 miles in trail, with manual handoffs.

You're the guy that sits next to me and just hands me his strips when you're friggin screen goes blank.

Uh, you seem to have a lot of people passing you strips. That's the second time in two comments you've used that analogy. I guess creativity is not your strong suit.

It just seems like you've got some massive ego that needs constant feeding. Maybe you feel nobody can do anything better than you? From the little I've seen so far, I'd imagine that your picture is next to the word "autofellatio" in the dictionary.

will you go to Sammy's and get a life? Please? You embarass me.

Oh, is that where you gotta go to get some action? Sorry to hear you can't get any without having to hit an ATM beforehand. What's your pickup line? "Hey baby, I know 'non radar'. Can I clear you to my fix?"
3) And the final little gem (also on LOA Hell)

If you know the aircraft you worked, and can list them on a website...
Please go do something else for a living.
No really.

I don't know. Call me silly for wanting to get into an aviation field and actually liking airplanes. It's ridiculous, isn't it?


I feel kind of dirty now. Oh well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blog Props

Some other interesting aviation blogs are popping up throughout the Internetz. Others that have been dormant for some time are coming back to life. Each one offers a different perspective on the aviation universe.

NAS Confusion
Author Statement: "I am an Air Traffic Controller at Boston Center. My area of specialty is Area A, which includes airspace above eastern upstate New York. I also earned my Private Pilot's License in 2001."

Level 7000
Author Statement: A line pilot for a cargo operator, building time and looking to break into the Profile: "I wish to let everyone know that I am a Part 135 freight pilot that flies for about 2.5 to 3 hours per day with a duty day near 14 hours. Yes it's long, yes it can get really really boring pays well and I am working for a smaller Part 135 outfit that bases in the southeast United States but I am in the Midwest! I look forward to talking about many things aviation and possibly aviation."

The Towerboss
Author Statement: Controller trainee just starting at Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH). "I'm an Air Traffic Controller and a Private Pilot."

Squawk Normal
Author Statement: "I'm not here to talk ATC. I'm here to talk politics. All the ATC blogs are openly supporting Obama and the Democratic Party. That's fine. But there is another side to the two-party coin. There are also more than two parties in America, and an infinitely more political ideologies than parties."

"Bob" Part Deux: The Reckoning

This is a sequel to my earlier post "Some Pilots..."

Light cargo haulers. Canceled check fliers. Whatever their name, they seem to have a lot of things in common wherever they are in the country.
  • They're always in an extreme hurry. Opposite direction departures, intersection takeoffs. Even their radio transmissions are brief to the point of being curt.
  • They will do anything in their power to be number one to the runway, maneuvering their Cessnas and Barons like P-51s.
  • The sky can be filled with a solid overcast, Noachian deluge-style rain, horrible visibility, volcanic ash, flaming frogs falling from the clouds, locusts swarming, and yet.... they'll still call the field in sight from 30 miles out at 1500 feet, in hopes of snagging a visual approach.
That all being said, it makes them fun to work. They bend their airplanes around the sky like madmen, make extreme short approaches, fly through some crazy weather. I don't know who pays them or how they get paid, but I've seen them fly directly through Heavy and Extreme precipitation in light piston singles just to shave a minute or two off their flight. Obviously we issue the weather to them, but we can't make them deviate if they don't want to. All we can do is provide the pilot with the weather information.

Overall, they're entertaining... until they're not number 1 for the runway. If you've got to sequence them, watch out. And that's where our story begins.

There are two rules in play for this story:
  1. We have to sequence all traffic to Pensacola Regional, regardless of whether it's VFR or IFR. We can't just shotgun the tower with VFRs from all over the place while feeding them IFR's on the primary final.
  2. Pensacola tower's AOR (Area of Responsibility) goes up to 1700', so we own 2200' and above.
So, let us proceed.

The Situation: Overcast day. Reduced visibility. We are landing runway 8 using instrument approaches.

The Players: We have three aircraft inbound to Pensacola at the moment. From the west, we have an IFR Embraer 135 regional airliner descending for the GPS approach . From the northeast, about 20-25 miles out, we have an IFR light cargo hauler. And from about 15-20 miles to the southeast, we have Bob v2.0, another IFR light cargo hauler (who's from the same company as the other one).

The Plan: You can't beat a straight-in. The Embraer is hands-down #1. I'm going to put Bob on a right downwind to follow him and then put the other cargo hauler on the left downwind to follow Bob.

The part of Bob will be played by the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Embraer has been cleared for his instrument approach and is about ten miles out. I descend Bob to 2200 feet. and he's on a vector to join a 3 mile or so right downwind for 8. He's about five miles southeast of the airport at this point. Having worked a few of these light cargo haulers before, I'm pretty sure that he's going to want to jump in front of the Embraer with a visual. However, that's not going to work for us.

Well, Bob's closer to the airport and - as expected - calls us "Airport in sight." This implies a request for the visual approach. The Embraer is now on a four mile final. No way is Bob going to make it in ahead of him. So, I just say, "Roger. Fly heading 250, maintain 2200, vectors for sequence. You're following a regional jet on a 4 mile final."

Apparently Bob thought that by calling the field in sight, it automatically waived our need to sequence and separate from other aircraft. He immediately copped an attitude. "I have the airport in sight."

So I repeat, "Fly heading 250, maintain 2200, vectors for sequence."

"Ha-ha! Thought you were getting that visual, weren't you?"

Now he pulls out the next weapon in his arsenal. It's a well-used blade that has allowed him to cut through many an ATC requirement in the past.

"Approach, I'm canceling IFR at this time."

Nice try. Remember: we still need to sequence VFR aircraft. Regardless of whether or not he's VFR, his light piston is not going to beat our Embraer. And if he tries, within 30 seconds I'm going to get a call from our tower's landline with the ATC phraseology equivalent of "WTF, over?!"

So, Bob has swung his sword. We now parry with our own mighty blade.

"Roger, IFR cancellation received. Fly heading 250, maintain VFR at 2200."

Clang! His blow is deflected. Cancelling IFR has changed nothing for him. He still needs to be sequenced to follow that Embraer. He is still number 2 for the runway. And unless he gets him in sight - which he hasn't - we still need wake turbulence separation.

"Cancel THIS!"

Note: I'd like to stress at this point one thing I mentioned in my last "Bob" story: at no point are we driving him far out of his way or making him do anything unsafe or unusual. We are not "vectoring for controller amusement". We're merely vectoring him behind another aircraft in a manner that is safe and efficient. The plan was to wait until he was abeam the Embraer on the downwind and then clear him for the visual. He would have had maybe another two or three miles to fly, and then he'd be cleared.

However, now he drops another bomb: "Uh, I can't maintain VFR on this heading. It'll run me right into the clouds! And I don't have my IFR clearance anymore." He sounds very annoyed and has simultaneously confirmed our suspicion: he obviously cancelled IFR just to try and sneak in ahead of the Embraer. Apparently, however, he wasn't actually in tenable VMC conditions.

Well, well. That's a surprise. "Maintain VFR at or above 2200'. Climb and deviate as necessary. "

Got yourself in a pickle now, don't ya?

At this point, we're splitting off the position. While before, I was both East and West, now I'm just the East side. Since we're landing runway 8, I hand Bob off to the west controller. By now my instructor and I are already annoyed ourselves. We were just trying to work the traffic, and this guy was trying to play us for fools.

Since I didn't work Bob after we handed him off, I am not certain if the other controller recleared him IFR or what. I don't know. However, what I do know is that Bob went from being number two to land, to number three. Because of his stunt, he ended up being vectored out to the west a bit, and the other airplane from his company - who, I might add, heard the entire exchange on the radio - wound up being closer. The other airplane did not make peep and simply followed instructions without complaint.

"So, have you learned your lesson?"

Well, apparently he didn't.

Shortly after he landed, Bob had the gall to call the TRACON and complain. Our supervisor was on the phone with him for a long time - at least 20 minutes. To make a long story short, he accused us of trying to fly him into clouds when he was VFR, which was absolute bullshit. The second he told us that the heading would run him into clouds, we told him to maintain VFR and deviate as necessary. It was plainly obvious to everyone on our end that he'd tried to pull a shortcut and wasn't in real VFR conditions.

Difficult Pilots

I don't care how much of an asshole a pilot is - and I've worked a couple real pricks in my short time training - I will never consciously put anyone in danger. I don't care what attitude they're copping. My goal is to keep the operation as safe as possible - whether they like it or not. However, I find it especially ridiculous when a pilot puts himself into danger - such as canceling IFR in IMC conditions - and then tries to blame the controller.

Like yesterday, for instance, one of my coworkers had a Cessna that was doing work 15 miles north of Whiting NAS. After he finished in that spot, he wanted to work all of three miles northeast of Whiting. This would put him right in the T-34 departure path: a bad place to be when you're talking swarms of high performance military aircraft flown by student pilots. The area was also located within the tower's airspace.

The controller called the tower, asked for a point-out, and they told him unable - with good reason. He informed the pilot: "Unable request due to Whiting departures, remain clear of Class C surface area." Apparently the pilot got pissed off, even though it was for his own safety. With Whiting launching like crazy as they were yesterday, every single departure would have been a potential conflict and a traffic call. Simply not workable.

We're not trying to be pains in the butt and restrict people from flying around without justification. However, there are times where we simply can't accomodate a request. Usually the reason for the "unable" is the best one of all: safety.

As a nightcap to the story: On the good side of things, I've worked this post's Bob several times since that day, and he's much more cooperative than he was before.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


When I was in middle school and high school, I used to do a lot of creative writing. At the time, I stuck to shorter pieces, like short stories, novellas, song lyrics, etc. I even placed in a couple of statewide writing competitions with a pair of short stories. I've always had a "thing" for writing and have dabbled with it off and on in the past ten years.

Well, this year I'm taking the plunge: I've decided to enter the National Novel Writing Month event (NaNoWriMo).

And... I'm sure many of you have never heard of it. From their "What is...?" page:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

That's 50,000 words in 30 days, or about 1,666 words a day. That's a lot of output. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Even if you don't actually finish, by the time the clock strikes midnight on Nov. 30th you need to have 50,000 words in the bag. :)

Apparently, the event has been going on for ten years. However, I was just introduced to it by my sister last week. I already had the novel in the planning for a couple weeks prior to that, but this has given me new incentive and enthusiasm to finish it.

What's cool about NaNoWriMo is that it's not a contest, per se. You don't win anything if you're the first or second author to spew out 50,000 words. What you do get is a sense of accomplishment. That's a whole lot of story and words to conjure up from your imagination in the space of a month. If you manage to crank that out in 30 days, you deserve a pat on your back.

Subject Matter: They're very free-form about the subject matter overall. It can be any genre and be about anything. You can write an original piece, a sequel to an existing novel by another author, or even a fan-fiction based off of your favorite TV show. Anything goes. As the FAQ says, "If you think it's a novel, we think it's a novel too."

Pre-planning: The rules do not prevent you from getting yourself organized before Nov. 1st. That's a big advantage that keeps you from diving into it cold turkey. And I'm grateful for that. In the past week, I've already got all 29 chapters fully blocked out and outlined. The story has a definitive beginning, middle, and end, with several arcs. My characters have become real people already, with full biographies and character trait studies. I've also researched the heck out of my setting.

I won't say much about my story at this point, other than it's an alternative history novel set in the early days of World War I in Russia. And, it will have certain steampunk elements; hell, the main setting is an armed airship. So... Russia. War. Steampunk. Airships. Airplanes. Historical Battles. Yeah, very much up my alley. :)

And, no, I'm not looking to have anything published. Sure, it would be nice, but I just want to feel the satisfaction of having put a good story to paper. However, there's a lot of people out there who participated in NaNoWriMo who have gone on to become published authors.

The Tools

If anybody out there is looking to get into writing, there's a lot of helpful books and tools out there. The three I recommend the most are:
  • Keys to Great Writing: Fantastic writing book with an excellent breakdown of all the elements of good storytelling. It features a lot of good exercises that help you get your creative juices flowing.
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop: Another terrific how-to book that's clear and well organized. For instance, if you're struggling with point of view issues, you can just flip to the point of view chapter and refresh yourself.
  • yWriter: An amazing writing program - developed by a successful author - that allows you to fully organize your novel by breaking it down into chapters and scenes. It has a fully realized set of tools for keeping track of your characters, goals, conflicts, items and locations, amongst other things. And... it's free!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Photo Day

Columbus Day. Get to relax, take a day off, disengage the mind, and get away from the computer as much as I can. In the meantime, here's a few pics I took in the past week.

Air Force Dumb
Sarah Palin rolled into town last week on a chartered Jet Blue Embraer. You all already know how I feel about her. I will say that it looks like she brought the entire population of Alaska with her. She apparently gave a speech at the Pensacola Civic Center which brought out the entire population of Pensacola. From the clips I've seen, the crowd was filled with wonderful folks like these. And these.

Ugly Plane of the Week
I worked this guy in for his approach, got relieved, and went out back to watch him land. It's a C-2 Greyhound, designed for COD: Carrier Onboard Delivery. In other words, it's a flying mail and cargo truck used to transport items back and forth from aircraft carriers while they're at sea. Now when I say "ugly" I don't mean it that badly. It's more along the lines of the A-10 Warthog brand of ugly: it's designed to do something, do it well, and it doesn't have to be pretty to do it. Considering that the Navy's been flying them for nearly 50 years and has no plans for replacing them, they must do a pretty good job.

Here he is taxiing in around a departing CRJ-700.

We Be Jammin'

While a lot of folks here at my work watch ESPN or the Golf Channel on break, that's not for me. I prefer a more musical method of relaxation to keep my head straight. Sometimes on a quiet, cool day, and especially after a rough training session, I'll take a guitar out on the back staircase and play some tunes to clear my mind. I've found that music truly is the best medicine.

Friday, October 10, 2008

N00b Moment of the Week

I'm going to make a bet that most people reading this have had at least one "fall on my ass in public" moment in their lives.

You know what I'm talking about: you're striding along with purpose, feeling good about yourself, not a care in the world. You're humming your favorite song. You're not even paying attention to where you're going. Life's awesome. And maybe - just maybe - you might be too.

Unfortunately, you're just too cool to notice the wet tile floor ahead. And then... whoa!!! Your feet slip out from under you... oh shit oh shit... try to keep the balance... oh shit oh shit... not happening... WHAM!!!

You're flat on your back, looking up at blue sky, and everyone around you is having a good laugh at your expense. As Bugs Bunny would say: "What a maroon!" Somewhere, a trombone makes a sad "mwa-wa-wa-waaaa" sound.

All you can do is pick yourself up and keep shuffling along while trying to reassemble the shattered fragments of you self-respect. That spring in your step is gone - replaced by a pronounced limp - and now your eyes are wide open and looking ahead. Because, well, you'll be damned if you'll let that ridiculousness happen again.

Yeap, that's pretty much how I felt today.

I had a pair of helicopters that wanted to do a VOR approach into Pensacola Regional. Not a big issue at all. One wanted holding prior to the approach, one wanting vectors straight-in. I issued the hold at 4000 to the first one, and vectors for the other one at 3000. Everything was working out perfectly. They were two out of the grand total of three aircraft I was working, so I was just idly watching them come in. La-de-da...

And then I remembered: Pensacola Sherman Naval Air Station to the south of us had switched runways a few minutes earlier. Because of this new configuration, that sector's controller took a good chunk of my airspace up to 4500'. So, those helicopters I was working? I was actually about to bust that sector's airspace with them. On top of that, when I tried to hand them off, the other controller wouldn't take the handoff and said he was unable to do the VOR approaches.

So, my perfect plan went out the window, I had to scramble, tell both pilots "Unable VOR approach. Say request.", rewrite strips with new requests, get them on vectors for those same requests, and completely rework everything. I had all of three freaking airplanes on my frequency and got smacked around by two of them due to my lack of situational awareness. In my defense, it's a configuration that's rarely used, but still... I should have known better.

My instructor and the other controller got a good laugh at my expense. My instructor realized I'd forgotten about the airspace change and had already pointed out the helos in advance to the other sector. But... he wanted me to learn my lesson.

And boy did I ever.

Time to put on the hat:

Knowing Your Equipment

This is a perfect example of what happens when you're not familiar with your "tools".

The goal of ATC training is not necessarily to teach you the name of every single fix on every single GPS approach in your airspace. Rather, it's to teach you how to use a set number of tools properly and creatively.

It's like carpentry: if you know how to use hammers, nails, drills, and saws, you can apply those tools to different projects. You can build a house. Or a dresser. Or a bench. All are different difficulty levels, but they all rely on the same knowledge of your material and tools. And you have to know them all well; you can't be a carpenter without knowing how to use a saw. Or a hammer.

In ATC, the tools include things like airspace awareness, phraseology, vectors, and procedures. That way, when you're presented with situations of varying complexity, you can figure out a way through them using those tools. Whether it's two planes or twenty, you're always using that knowledge to sort through the problems.

And just like with carpentry, weakness in one area severely impacts the results elsewhere. When it came to those two helicopters today, my vectors, phraseology, and procedures were spot-on. However, none of that mattered since, well, I was using them in somebody else's airspace without prior consent. So, my "airspace awareness" tool is in need of some serious sharpening on that runway configuration.

Final Word

I'd also like to point out (pun intended) the ramifications of the incident. Had my instructor not pointed out those aircraft to the other sector earlier, that would have been an Operational Deviation. I would be violating the other controller's airspace - with two IFR aircraft no less - without their prior consent. Intentional or not, that's some bad juju right there.

In other words: a deal.

That should give you an idea of how one little mistake or oversight can balloon into something much more problematic if not caught early enough.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Paper Trails

This is a post for the pilots out there.

When I was in flight training for my Private Pilot's License (PPL), I dealt very little with air traffic control. I did fly out of two different towered fields and of course worked with the towers in that environment. However, all of my ATC experience was limited to take offs, landings, and taxiing. With the exception of one single dual cross country from Miami to West Palm Beach, I never once dealt with a TRACON or an En Route center while I was in flight training.

After I got my PPL, I took a few cross countries on my own where I did talk to ATC for VFR flight following. One of them was up to Stuart, FL, and along the way I talked with Miami Approach, Fort Lauderdale Tower, and West Palm Beach Approach. It really got me wondering how the information on my flight - my call sign, my aircraft type, my departure point and destination - gets passed from one facility to another. I was fully aware that everything was computerized, but I still wondered what each controller at each facility was looking at.

It was only after I'd gone through Oklahoma City and actually started training in ATC that I developed an idea of how the system worked. I thought it might be interesting to do a comparison between what a pilot's seeing and what a controller's seeing.

If you're a pilot that's wondering, "How does ATC know what I want to do?" then hopefully this post should clarify things. Or make you more confused. Hopefully the former. :)

Flying Hot Potato

The only real ATC concept I'll mention here is what is known as the "hand off". Before an aircraft leaves one facility and enters the airspace of another, it must be handed off to the receiving facility. This is essentially a transfer of responsibility for that aircraft and is conducted either via a function on the radar scope or via voice coordination. Once the receiving facility accepts the hand off (and therefore the responsibility) the first controller tells the aircraft to contact the receiving controller on the receiving controller's frequency.

Think of it as a relay race. When one facility has done all they can for you, they pass you on to the next one. And then you get passed on to the next one. So on and so forth. Each facility bears the same amount of responsibility for your safety and the expeditiousness of your flight.

The Plan

As always, I'll try to create a realistic example. Let's make a simple flight plan. Today, you're flying N12354, a Cessna 172, from New Orleans Lakefront Airport to Pensacola Regional. You want to go as direct as possible and cruise at 5000. Unlike me, you're an instrument-rated pilot, so you'll be flying IFR.

1. Preflight

As part of your pre-flight routine, you call up a Flight Service Station or submit your flight plan online. The flight plan includes your call sign (N12354), departure (NEW), your destination (PNS), and your route of flight (in this case, just NEW -> DIRECT -> PNS). You also give them your aircraft type (C172/G), estimated departure time (1200Z), requested altitude (5000'), VFR or IFR status (IFR), and airspeed (110kt). There's other information that gets taken down for the FSS' purpose but isn't relevant for ATC, such as souls and fuel on board.

This information gets entered into the National Airspace System's database, which transmits it to the appropriate facilities. The NAS is based on "fix pairs" - i.e. it draws a line from one point on the route to the next at the requested altitude. It therefore knows which facilities the route passes through at that altitude. In your flight's case, it will be all of these:

2. Tower Departure Strip

While you preflighted your airplane, the NAS was preflighting too. 30 minutes before your proposal time of 1200z, it generates a squawk code (6231) for your flight and a flight progress strip prints out in NEW airport's control tower.

When you're ready to taxi, the ground controller or clearance delivery controller issues you your clearance and your squawk code, both of which are read from that strip.

All of the information on it should be easy to decipher. The only thing that you haven't seen yet is that number (723) on the lower left. That's your flight plan's Computer I.D. Number - or CID - which makes it unique from every other flight plan in the NAS.

The CID serves to differentiate multiple flight plans filed under the same call sign within an overlying En Route Center's airspace. For example, say you just wanted to stop in Pensacola to get gas and a snack, and then continue on to Gainesville, FL. You would have one flight plan filed at 1200Z from NEW-PNS, and then another filed at 1430Z from PNS-GNV. Even though they're both same call sign - N12354 - each flight plan has its own CID.

A note on En Route Centers: Your flight plan goes from NEW (which is in Houston Center's airspace) and arrives in Pensacola (Jacksonville Center's airspace). Each center's host computer uses a different CID and a different squawk code for your flight. The boundary between Houston and Jacksonville centers is also the boundary between Mobile approach and Pensacola approach, so when you cross that line you will be issued the squawk code that corresponds to the center whose airspace you're entering. While you might be technically talking to Pensacola Approach, you'll be under Jacksonville's jurisdiction. Click here to see a map depicting each center's airspace.

3. Terminal Departure Strip
In the interest of keeping things consistent, I'm going to assume New Orleans TRACON is using procedures similar to those used here at Pensacola and a lot of other places, including flight progress strips. Many of the larger places have recently taken strips out of the equation entirely and replaced it with more simplified and/or automated methods. However, at one point or another in the past, strips were part of most facilities' day-to-day operations. So, for the sake of this example, we'll just say New Orleans's still using strips.

At the same time as the strip prints in NEW's tower, an identical departure strip prints out in New Orleans' TRACON. Since they're NEW's overlying TRACON facility, they'll be working you on your way out and need to know your flight plan. When you first call up the tower to taxi, the tower calls the TRACON and tells them to "activate" you. This lets the radar controller know that you'll be taking off shortly and gives him time to get your strip in his hands.

Then, when you're at the runway at the hold short line and ready for takeoff, the tower calls up the TRACON and requests "release" for you. The radar controller checks to make sure that there's nothing that will conflict with your departure from the airport (i.e. another aircraft flying across your departure path at a conflicting altitude) and then grants the release. From that point, the tower has three minutes to get you off the ground. For the entirety of those three minutes, the departure controller must protect that airspace for you.

In addition to the paper strip, your call sign (N12354) and assigned squawk code (6132) appear in the radar controller's tab list on their scope. This lists all aircraft that are expected to be within the controller's airspace within the next 5 minutes or so, including departures, arrivals, and overflights.

Procedural Notes: All airports and TRACONs have different procedures, depending on their letters of agreement and equipment. As I noted, New Orleans may be doing something different than what I'm showing here.
  1. For instance, at a facility like Miami, the activation is done via bar codes on the strips. The tower controller swipes the strip underneath a bar code scanner, which sends out a signal to both the TRACON and the overlying center that the aircraft is taxiing. This is used for flow management, so the departure and en route facilities can get an idea of how much traffic they're going to be getting and which way they'll be going. Pretty neat stuff.
  2. A tower can coordinate automatic releases with its overlying TRACON via letter of agreement or verbal coordination. For instance, our Pensacola tower is required to request release on all of its departures due to the convoluted nature of our traffic and airspace. However, South Whiting NAS tower has automatic releases since their departure cooridor is self-contained. Therefore, they can launch a helicopter without actually requesting permission from us. The only thing they are required to do is call us over the land line to let us know he's taking off. This is called a "rolling call", telling the controller "Heads up, VV123 is on the go.".
  3. Lastly, like I said earlier, many TRACONs don't use strips at all. For instance, Miami and Potomac TRACON do not since they're working a lot of high volume airliner and jet traffic that will be climbing high and fast out of their airspace. All they really need to know is the first fix outside of their airspace so they can send them out that way as quickly as possible. It's quite possible that New Orleans TRACON has gone that way, so if there are any New Orleans controllers out there reading this, give me a shout out and let me know what you're using.
Alrighty. Enough holding short. Without further ado, the tower controller clears you for takeoff.

When you takeoff, the moment your airplane tags up on the departure controller's scope a Departure Message is sent to facilities down the line basically saying, "Hey, N12354 is airborne." Your flight is therefore activated in the NAS.

4. TRACON En Route Strip

Based upon (I believe) your cruising speed, the NAS computer calculates how long it will take you to get to each point on your route. When it estimates that your airplane is less than 30 minutes from the next facility's boundary, an En Route strip is printed at that facility. In addition, you'll appear in the radar scope tab list at each facility.

Note the differences in comparison with a departure strip. This one features your cruising altitude prominently, as that's the altitude you're expected to be level at when you leave their airspace. The two boxes with "NEW" on the arrival strip indicate the previous fix and the coordination fix. Without going too much into it, these basically tell the receiving controller where you're going to enter their airspace. Lastly, the E0100 in field 8 tells the controller at what time you're expected to cross the coordination fix (in this case, 0100 Zulu).

Note: if you were talking to a En Route Center controller (for instance, if you're a corporate jet pilot flying at 31,000 feet), the strips those controllers use are completely different than the ones used by TRACONs. I won't go into detail, but here's an example below. You can clearly see the differences in the format:

5. Terminal Arrival Strip

Okay, you're 30 minutes away from Pensacola TRACON's airspace, and a Terminal arrival strip prints out in the TRACON.

First thing: note that the CID and the squawk code have changed. Remember how I mentioned that each center has its own host computer? Well, when you crossed from Mobile Approach's airspace into Pensacola's Approach's airspace, you crossed the line from Houston Center to Jacksonville Center. Now you're issued the new squawk code so that you sync up with Jacksonville's computer system.

The second thing you should notice is that the TRACON arrival strip has no altitude on it. Facilities have Letters of Agreement with their neighboring facilities that dictate at what altitude arriving aircraft will be at. I go into that a lot more in this post.

The short version: Mobile Approach must have assigned you an odd altitude (you are eastbound) and you must be level at or within 1000 feet of that altitude when you cross the boundary. Of course, since you were already cruising at 5000, you will likely just be left at 5000.

Once you've been handed off and are talking to Pensacola Approach, they'll tell you what kind of approach you can expect or ask you which one you prefer. That will be typically written on the strip (Visual, GPS, ILS, VOR, or NDB) so the controller knows for which one you need to be vectored.

The controller will also initiate a hand off to Pensacola tower by pressing "T" on the keyboard and click on the airplane on his scope. We have a lot of airplanes flying around in the vicinity of Pensacola and our tower doesn't need to be looking at every single one of them. They only care about airplanes that will actually be entering their airspace, which includes aircraft landing, doing practice approaches, or overflights through their airspace. By handing off to the tower, we ensure that relevant airplanes appear on the tower's radar display so they can see what they have inbound.

Below is a shot from PNS tower. You can see the radar feed display on the left. The only full data blocks are those with "T" tags, such as the FRL6092 (on final at 900 feet) and N530AQ (on high downwind at 8000 feet), which are arrivals to runway 26. If you look just southwest of N530AQ, you'll see an aircraft at 600 feet that's on a "P" tag (meaning he's talking to the TRACON's P sector). That "P" airplane is not landing at PNS and is outside of the tower's airspace, so the tower doesn't need to be looking at them.

6. Tower Arrival Strip

At the same time as Pensacola Approach received an arrival strip, another prints out in Pensacola tower.
After the approach controller has cleared you for an approach, you'll be switched to the tower. When you call up the tower, they grab your strip and write down whatever information their procedures call for. Maybe it's the runway you're landing on, maybe what kind of approach you're doing. As I said, every tower is different.

In the end, you're cleared to land, touch down, taxi to the ramp, and power down. Now it's time to go off and enjoy that $100 cheeseburger.

Post-Flight Debrief

For the pilot, that was a relatively simple flight plan. You popped PNS into your GPS, dialed 5000 on the autopilot, and kicked back and relaxed. The scenery along the gulf coast looked gorgeous as you flew along on a beautiful cloudless day.

But behind the scenes, you had quite a few people looking out for you.
  • 2 controllers at NEW: Ground and Local
  • 1 (or more) controllers at New Orleans TRACON: I'm not familiar with their sectorization, but at least one controller will work your departure.
  • 2 (or more) controllers at Gulf Port TRACON: I'm not familiar with their layout, but they probably have West and East sectors.
  • 2 controllers at Mobile TRACON: West and East sectors
  • 2 controllers at Pensacola TRACON: West and East sectors
  • 2 controllers at PNS: Ground and Local
That's at least eleven different controllers. All of them were responsible for your safety at different points of your journey. Using the strips and methods outlined above, they were able to make your flight as expeditious and predictable as possible. It's all about passing and using information effectively.

For the pilots, I hope that sheds some light about what goes on behind the scenes in the towers and radar rooms around the country.

P.S. The photos I used in this post are ones I took at my former flight school, ADF Airways, at Tamiami Airport, Miami, FL. I got to ride in the back on one flight while my instructor took up another student of his for a round of pattern work. So, if you're looking at those pics and thinking "Hey... that doesn't look like New Orleans, Gulf Port, Mobile, or Pensacola", you're absolutely right!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Irregularly Scheduled Programming

I'm right in the middle of a couple longer posts that are requiring a little more research and graphics than expected.

But, in the meantime, here are some fun weekend videos for you.

First up, a spoof of Discovery Channel's amazing Boom-De-Ya-Da commercial, remade with aviation clips.

Negative G's
Wait til the end...

Zero G's
And this one is for the cat lovers out there. Of which I am not one. No astronauts were harmed in the making of this video. But one cat was seriously pissed off. :)

F-16 Deadstick Landing
As one commenter put it: "balls of steel".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bring the Rain

So, I'm working a T-34 tonight with a student and instructor on board. They're on vectors towards South Whiting for the PAR approach.

Just east of the final are three small restricted areas that belong to Eglin. They usually "loan" them to us, but they'll take them away when they need them for specific operations. Typically they'll have C-130 Hercules transport planes para-dropping troops for survival training or doing low altitude runs. Fairly innocuous things.

Well... apparently they do other things over there too.

The instructor in the T-34 calls me up when they're about four miles from the boundary.

Instructor: "Approach, Blackbird 123, are the restricted areas hot tonight?"
Me: "Affirmative, the areas are hot."
Instructor: "Uh, well, I've got stuff falling around me."
Uh oh.
Me: "BB123, roger, um, what kind of stuff?"
Instructor: "Well, it looks like tracer rounds. It's off my nose, about a 120 heading."
I know Eglin had a few C-130s out on the range tonight. We got point-outs on two of them, but both of those were headed out. I did see one target right on a 120 heading from him level at 8000.
Me: "Well, Eglin had a few C-130s in the area. I'm seeing about two or three right now. Maybe they were just dropping flares."
Instructor: "Ummm, roger."

Anyways, I give them their turn to final and hand them off to Whiting's PAR controllers. I think about it for a moment. Red tracers? What the hell would produce... oh wait a minute. The light comes on. I call up Eglin North.

Me: "Eglin North, Pensacola Whiting, those C-130s you have out in the restricted areas... they wouldn't happen to be AC-130s, would they?"
Eglin: "They sure are!"

Well, no wonder the T-34 pilots were "spooked". This is what they were seeing from about 4 miles away.

That lovely laser-like display is produced by the AC-130 Spooky and its complement of 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm weapons. A serious piece of anti-surface gear, Eglin's got a flock of them based out of Hurlburt AFB just east of here.

When we take point outs or actually work them, there's no distinction made between a regular cargo C-130 or the AC-130. They're all just C-130s on the flight plans. But there's a huge world of difference between a standard Herky bird and the gunship pictured below.

Here's one of the 25mm "miniguns" that produces those tracers. And yes, the pretty girl really is an AC-130 gunner.

Here it is firing its 105mm howitzer. Yes, that's a freaking howitzer mounted on an airplane.

For movie fans, if you've seen Transformers, you've seen the AC-130 in (fictional) action, taking on Scorponok in the desert. When that one soldier says "Bring the rain", that's what he's referring to. Badass scene, though of course Michael Bay throws his Hollywood B.S. into it. It's got a lot of cool USAF hardware - A-10 Warthogs, AC-130 Spooky, E-3 AWACS, and the Predator Drone. Check it out below.

I tell you, you learn something new everyday. I'd heard that Eglin uses those areas for live fire exercises, but this is the first time I'd actually seen it myself.

I will say, we've got some fairly unique airspace around here. I can't think of too many places where the aircraft you're working have a good chance of being hosed out of the sky by a stream of 20mm and 40mm rounds!