Friday, October 23, 2009

Moving Day: A Tale of Two TRACONS

First - yes, I'm still alive! I'm not going to bore anyone with the details of what I've been up to. Suffice it to say I've had a lot of music, writing, and personal things going on that have really taken up a lot of my time.

Secondly, today is the last day in our old TRACON. The new building goes online tonight. Over the past few days the Airways and Facilities folks have been steadily "cutting over" equipment, frequencies, and landlines. Let's just say there have been a few hair-raising moments where controllers have suddenly found themselves with lots of airplanes and - surprise! -no working radios. But, everybody made it through just fine so far.

So, come Monday I'll be doing the same ol' thing in brand new surroudings. Just for a frame of reference, here's a look at the contrast between the old facility and the new one.

A Tale of Two TRACONS: A Comparison

OLD: The 45 year old building
It has a certain weary battleship thing going on. The boarded-up tower on top was decommissioned in 1998 and had its windows blown out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The old radar room will stay operational for 30 days. After that, it will all be torn down and replaced with a new cargo terminal for the airport.

OLD: Panorama

My dusty, musty workplace for the past two years. You really don't want to see this place with the lights on. Oh my God.

Incidentally, this is the first position I was certified on, and the last one I worked in the new building. Physical push-button radio panels above, physical landline buttons to the left, and the ARTS keyboard with a PEM stick for moving your cursor around. Never heard of a PEM? Remember those

NEW: The 2009 model TRACON
Brand new government issue TRACON.

Note: The tower is separate

NEW: Panorama
It has a much larger floor plan, with large desks in the middle for supervisors and Flight Data. There are currently 12 scopes installed, with a room for around six more. The building was designed with consolidation in mind. There's talk of either Mobile or Panama City one being integrated in here.

NEW: STARS Scope for the same sector shown above
Touchscreen RDVS panel on the left with all the frequencies and landlines, trackball in the middle of the console, and the new expanded STARS version of the keyboard at right. It's a much cleaner workspace.
NEW: Logo Coffee Mug
We had some celebratory spillproof coffee mugs made, with a logo I designed on the front. I couldn't help it... it's Pensacola... the Blue Angels had to make it in...

A Little Nostalgia

As nice as the new equipment and new building are, there are certain things I'll miss about the old place.

The Convenience: My wife and I only have one car and our schedules don't match. For the past two years, every time I've worked a night shift - usually twice a week - I've gone into the airport terminal and sat in the airport's only restaurant until it's time for work. Let's just say they know my "usual" when I go there.

At times, I've sat there for up to four or five hours before my shift starts - for instance, when my wife goes in at 10am and my shift doesn't start til 2:45pm. So, an eight hour day becomes a twelve or thirteen hour day for me. And of course, that takes away from my time to run errands, sleep, relax, whatever.

On the plus side, they have free Wi-Fi, decent food - best Cuban sandwich north of Miami - and there's just no better place to people-watch than an airport. I have lunch, surf/write on my laptop, and generally pass the time. I've just become accustomed to it.

The new TRACON is located in the middle of freaking nowhere. It's a couple of miles further away from my house and there's nothing useful around it. No places to sit. No places to eat. So, on those late shift days, I'll probably have to go in and just sit somewhere in the building until it's time to actually clock in. Oh joy.

The other option is to get some addtional transporation. I did ride my bike home from the old TRACON many times. I may still ride home from this TRACON in the cooler months, since I can just jump in the shower at home. During the summer, it can get up to and stay at over 100 degrees. It's hellish. But riding to work... man, what a mess.

Cab rides are too expensive - ~$35-$40 one way from my house. The busses here are useless. I don't want to bum anymore rides from my coworkers. Buying a second car, even a used one, is not in the financial cards right now. Maybe after the first of the year, when we get our raise, we'll explore the option. But right now, it looks like I'll just be doing the sitting game. Except, this time, without food and without internet. Yay... time to pack two meals - one lunch and one dinner.

The "Personal Space": The old building had three floors and was very spacious. The first floor was management and Airways & Facilities. The second floor was the radar room, equipment spaces, break room, and a few small offices. A mostly disused conference room made up the third. There were also a number of spaces around the building where you could find a nook to read, play some guitar, and generally get some quiet time. A bunch of us actually commandeered the third floor as our own area to talk, read, watch movies, and generally hang out without a TV or YouTube blaring in the background.

The new building is actually much smaller in terms of square footage and has only one floor. So, now management, controllers, and AF are working in much closer proximity, and sharing the same spaces. I have a feeling things will be a bit claustrophobic for a while.

That third floor will be missed.

The View: The last thing I'll miss the most is the outdoor staircase at the rear of the building. It was just perfect for planespotting. I always carry a camera with me - a real point-and-shoot, not just a camera phone - because I just never knew what was going to come in.

Here are some videos and pics I've taken over the past couple of years from that staircase, sort of a "Staircase Greatest Hits":

Blimp Landing

Navy T-45 Goshawk

Pano looking south from the stairs
You can see the tower and the new TRACON beside it on the other side of the field.

Delta Departing
Perfect lighting and a touch of haze add a sheen to this B752.

V-22 Osprey Taxiing

I was upstairs, heard this bizarre sound, went out to look, and saw this:

Bad Weather Day
Sarah Palin arrives in Pensacola via a Jet Blue charter. On another note, DHL ceased airborne cargo operations in the United States a few months after this pic was taken.

There may be some developmental commentary here.

Odd Couple

A sleek little CRJ being passed by what's arguably one of the ugliest - but most effective - aircraft ever made, the Navy C-2 Greyhound.

It was very, very peaceful out there most of the time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good Riddance

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. I'd burn you, but I think all that accumulated hate inside of you might pollute the atmosphere like Chernobyl.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On a Quiet Morning...

Eight years ago, I awoke to a pounding on my bedroom door. "Turn on the TV!" my mother-in law - who my wife and I were staying with at the time - yelled in Spanish. She's a very mellow person usually. Something was obviously up.

I stumbled out of bed and grabbed the remote. What could be so important that-

Oh God.

Twin towers aflame. Smoke billowing for miles in a plume so huge it could be seen from space. How could both towers be on fire? Then they reran the clips of UAL175 streaking along, banking, correcting. My gut wrenched as I saw the huge Boeing swallowed by the tower and a huge ball of ugly flame belch out of the building. Eyewitnesses said another one had hit the first tower.

Two airplanes? This was no accident. We were under attack. I immediately thought of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor. The anger punched me hard.

I woke my wife up. We both sat, dumbfounded and helpless, as people struggled to survive a thousand miles away while metal wilted before the heat of flaming jet fuel. Firemen rushed to the rescue. People hovered in windows, waving frantically, trapped between a fiery death or a fall to Earth. Some held hands and leapt, together in their last moments, choosing their fate. Heroism and tragedy intertwined.

Those buildings were so indescribably tall and majestic, and being a child of the 80's I could never picture NYC without them. I remember reading about the B-25 that slammed into the Empire State Building in 1945. That was a 20 ton bomber crashing into a concrete and steel building, not a 150 ton airliner. But, surely, building technology had come a long way since those days.

Then came the first collapse. A short time later, the second. And we could only watch and hope that someone - somehow - had made it out of there alive.

I'd only visited New York once since I was a small child. In May 2001, my wife and I hooked up with my parents and sister in Philadelphia and took a whirlwind tour of the NE United States. Eight states in three days. My wife had never been to NYC before, and we saw a lot of things very quickly.

However, my strongest memories are of the Twins. I recall standing beside them, looking up, and feeling so very insignificant. They seemed to go on forever.

The only camera I had on me then was a DV video camera that also took 1024x768 stills, a pitiful resolution by today's standards. I had a wide-angle attachment for it as well. Here are the pics I shot on that beautiful day in May.

(Here's what the sphere looks like now. It actually survived the collapse and will be placed in the 9/11 memorial when it's built.)

Those are just a little reminder of how things were eight years and one day ago.

A few years later, I went on a class trip to the D.C. area. We hit every type of ATC facility: Washington National Airport Control Tower, Potomac TRACON, Washington Center, and - lastly - the Air Traffic Systems Command Center.

If you haven't seen United 93, you should. It's a powerful film and does a good job of showing what air traffic controllers do and how they react to unusual situations. While actors portray the heroes and terrorists who died aboard the aircraft, many of the folks on the ground - including ATC, military, government - are the actual people who were working that day. That includes the controllers who were on the frequencies and were the first people in the country to realize something was seriously wrong. Also, in tune with its accuracy, no other film has done as good a job presenting the "look" of ATC facilities.

The order to land every non-military aircraft in the United States airspace originated in the Command Center - given by 1st-day-on-the-job director Ben Sliney. Controllers from around the country managed to land every airplane within two hours, a fact that the media certainly noticed in a number of post 9/11 reports.

While visiting the Command Center was certainly a "big picture" look at the National Airspace System's normal daily ebb and flow of ground stops and delays, I also found it interesting to be in a place where a significant piece of ATC history originated.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Resting Up

The missus and I just returned from Dragon*Con 2009, the creative/sci-fi convention in Atlanta. I was feeling crappy before we headed out, and over the past couple of days it's developed into a full-blown cold. So, I'll be taking a little time off writing for the rest of this week.

We did have a great time. I spent about 40% of the time at various creative writing panels, on everything from writing accurate military characters to the different factors that affect whether or not a book becomes a bestseller.

Here are some of the authors who conducted the panels I attended. There was a whole lot of talent and experience packed in every room, folks who've been in the writing industry since the day before forever.
  • Charlaine Harris: Author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, aka the basis for HBO's awesome show True Blood.
  • Mike Mignola: Creator of Hellboy.
  • Timothy Zahn: Author of a gazillion Star Wars universe books and other sci-fi novels.
  • Kevin J. Anderson: Author of the Dune prequels (along with Brian Herbert).
  • Richelle Mead: Author of the Succubus series. I've never read them, but my wife and sister are huge fans.
  • Peter David: Author of over 70 novels and 1000 comics in a ton of different markets.
I also got to watch and meet some of my favorite indie bands - The Ghosts Project, Abney Park, and Faith and the Muse. Excellent performances by all.

And, I had a walk-by encounter with The Guild's Felicia Day in the Art Gallery. Even though I'm not an MMO player myself, I love her web series (and of course Doctor Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog). She is so very, very cute in person.

For the sci-fi fans out there - and not that bullcrap SyFy thing....eck - we went to a Babylon 5 panel and a Battlestar Galactica panel. The B5 one was fantastic, with five of the major stars of the show in attendance. If you've never seen the show, once you get past the corny mid-90's 3D graphics and focus on the story and characters, you'll find one of the best dramas ever written in any genre. It actually took me until about episode 20-something to realize how good it was. Unlike Star Trek's crappy standalone "alien of the week" episodes, B5 is all about an ongoing storyline and fully realized character arcs.

The BSG panel was hella fun as well. The actors who played Laura Roslin, Saul Tigh, Ellen Tigh, Tom Zarek, "Dee" Dualla, Kat, Sam, and Felix Gaeta were there. Great group of people, and they dropped some hints about the upcoming BSG movie The Plan.

The only problems - with both the BSG panel and the B5 group - were the few audience members who insisted on asking some seriously ridiculous questions and making outlandish comments. I was reminded of this clip from William Shatner's famous SNL skit, directed at detail-obsessed Trekkies who seem to think the show was real. It was really, really just like that. It's like, "People, it was a show - a great show, yes - but nonetheless, just a frakking show..." Seriously guys, did your parents not socialize you? Did you spend the past 20 years in grandma's basement?

*Sigh*. Sci-fi convention stereotypes exist for a reason, I guess. Galaxy Quest does tend to be pretty accurate.

But anyways, I'm going to hit the sack. My wife doesn't have to work tomorrow. I do. Meh. Let's see how I feel in the AM. I'd rather not be sneezing all over the ARTS keyboards. They're disgusting enough as it is...

Heck, that's probably where I got this bug. There isn't enough hand sanitizer in the world to clean up after using those keyboards.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Seventy Years

Seven decades ago today, Germany ignited the fires of World War II by shelling - and then invading - Poland. To say the world was forever changed pays poor respect to the tens of millions of people who perished in the carnage that ensued.

In the midst of the destruction, new, terrible words were born that have since left an indelible mark on the world's lexicon.
Such small words with such gruesome connotations.

In somewhat related news, my WWII story "Day 483" has made it to the top ten stories of all time on For those who haven't read it yet, click here. It's a tale of ordinary citizens surviving the darkest hours of WWII's Eastern Front.

Some commenters have called it a horror story. I don't agree - horror stories are fantasy. What happened on the Eastern Front goes far beyond what fiction can conjure.

Nightly LOL

I'm working Flight Data and simultaneously monitoring the one radar position we have open. The phone rings at the supervisor's desk and the sup picks up. It's the operations office for a regional air carrier. They have a flight arriving here in about fifteen minutes and apparently the flight's gate has been changed. They ask us to pass the information on to the pilot.

Why they called us, I have no idea. I've yet to see someone issue a "taxi to ramp" instruction from a radar position, but we've got the information. The radar controller agrees to pass it on.

Shortly thereafter, the plane gets handed off to us.

RGL3421: "Approach, Regional 3421 with you descending to 11,000 with Bravo."
Controller: "Regional 3421, Approach, roger. Descend and maintain 3,000."
RGL3421: "Down to 3,000, RGL3421."
Controller: "Oh, RGL3421, I'm not sure why this got passed to me, but your gate's apparently been changed. It's now G9."
RGL3421: "Errr, G9? Roger, 3421."

- A minute or so passes -

RGL3421: "Approach, you did say G9?"
Controller: "Uh, RGL3421, like I said, that's what got passed to me. It's G9."
RGL3421 (laughing): "Yeah, we were just discussing that and, uh, your airport's only got eight gates."

- We all crack up. A few seconds pass. -

Controller (deadpan): "Well, just look for the guy with the flashy lights."
RGL3421 (laughing): "Yeah, we'll do that. If that doesn't work, then we've got some real problems!"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Flock of Ospreys

I think it'd be pretty hard to find a modern military aircraft that's stirred up more controversy than the V-22 Osprey. Sure, the F-22 is expensive and much of its role arguably obsolete, but it's still the best damn air superiority fighter in the world.

The Osprey, on the other hand, seems to be one teething problem after another. Engine exhaust that warps unprepared decks and lights landing zone foliage on fire. HIGE (Hovering in Ground Effect) issues when operating aboard ship with one engine over the side. Numerous crashes during its development phase that killed nearly two dozen people. Mechanical and maintenance problems caused by a lack of parts. Public relations disasters in many areas of its deployment, from falsified maintenance records to massive cost overruns. It hasn't lived up to its promised range and speed requirements.

Nonetheless, I'll admit: I'm a fan of the airplane, or at least its concept. When pushing aside the logistics, costs, and general public relations issues, the aircraft is a marvel of engineering. Unlike many other bloggers who hope it fails and want the U.S. to buy up a ton of modernized CH-53s or CH-47s, I'd actually like to see it succeed. The last I've heard its situation appears to be improving, with its deployment ships learning how best to operate their new toy.

Until today, I'd only seen one before in real life. In 2007, I took a Caribbean Carnival cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. The FLL Air & Sea show was in full swing as we were getting ready to depart. The USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) pulled into Port Everglades and docked right beside us, right in front of my balcony. On her deck sat a V-22.

USS Kearsarge getting pushed into her berth.

V-22 Osprey onboard

V-22 getting maneuvered about by a tug with a Princess cruise ship leaving beyond it.

Well, this morning, I was running some errands near Pensacola Regional Airport. Driving past the main airport entrance, I happened to look left towards the terminal. Heliworks - our local helicopter FBO that sits next to the terminal - sometimes has odd aircraft over the weekend. I've seen CH-53s, CH-47s, CH-46s and other military hardware there before.

A gaggle of strange rotors and twin tails peeked up beyond the fence. What the...?

After a quick U-turn, I drove into the parking lot adjacent to Heliworks. And there I found five V-22s from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-266. Odd aircraft indeed!

This is a perfect example of why I always keep a camera on me. I took a couple of panoramas and a bunch of standalone shots.

Five Ospreys of VMM-266

A Continental Express Beech 1900 taking off beyond.

Cloudy nose-on.

Ah! There's the sun.

Broad rotors.

Funny how dirty the engine nacelles are. These aren't exactly two decades old.

Rotors up.

Pilots from Navy Training Air Wing Five (TAW-5 NAS Whiting) tying down their H-57, with their (possible) future ride in the background.

That's our new TRACON to the right of the tower. Hopefully we'll be there in October.

It's funny; I wasn't the only one intrigued by these strange airplanes. I was there maybe ten minutes taking these shots, and no less than a dozen cars pulled up to admire the Ospreys. Parents with kids in tow, old ladies, photographer-types with long lensed cameras - a bizarre crossection of people, all fascinated by these aeronautical oddities.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the News

It's kind of funny when the aircraft you work - or may wind up working in the future - appear as front page news in the local paper.

The articles below relate to Choctaw Field and Whiting NAS. Here's where these fall within our radar map:

From the Northwest Florida Daily News:

Navarre Potential Destination for F-35

NAVARRE — Eglin Air Force Base officials hosted a meeting Tuesday to discuss an alternative that would use Choctaw Field in South Santa Rosa County for the Joint Strike Fighter training mission.

The meeting introduced three alternatives that are being considered in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the bed-down of the F-35 jets.

Of the three alternatives introduced, Choctaw Field (also known as Alternative 3) would have the greatest impact on the Holley-Navarre area.

The alternative would add a runway to Choctaw’s main airfield for the F-35 or use the current runway and add a landing, helicopter and assault area on the east side of the existing airfield. Either option would conflict with the existing Navy training at the airfield.

Two residents spoke at the meeting. Both favored using Choctaw Field, calling the potential noise “the sound of freedom.”

David Del Castillo lives 13 to 15 miles from Choctaw Field and saw several advantages.

“I believe that placing military aircraft at Choctaw Field, or anywhere in this area, is very good for the community. It’s also good for the Air Force,” he said. “I believe that Highway 87 directly connecting to Choctaw Field offers a lot of advantages. Heavy cargo could be brought in by trucks, never having to impact communities in Navarre. It could potentially provide employment to the community.”

Choctaw Field is located on the far west corner of Eglin Air Force Base’s range between East Bay and State Road 87 south of Interstate 10.

The airfield would be an hour commute for Joint Striker Fighter students who will attend classes in the training school under construction at Eglin.

Increased activity at Choctaw Field also could interfere with Bob Sikes Airport, Whiting Field and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport, according to a brochure available at the meeting.

Another alternative suggests Choctaw and Duke Field share the mission with Eglin’s runways. Two parallel runways would be built at Eglin and Choctaw would be used as one of two outlying fields.

An additional alternative would move the Joint Strike Fighter training to Duke Field. That option calls for building a landing, helicopter and assault area, and use either the existing runway or add a parallel runway east of the existing one.

“We support whatever the military needs to do,” said Sherry Del Castillo after the meeting.

However she did express one disappointment.

“I’m disappointed Santa Rosa County officials weren’t here to speak on our behalf,” she said.

The meeting was the first time Navarre has been included as a possible destination for the F-35.

Choctaw Field was excluded as an option previously because its runways could not support the mission and were already used by the Navy, base officials said in an interview in March.

Most of the F-35 discussion has centered on Valparaiso, where city officials are extremely worried about the jets’ noise.

Many of the alternatives presented involve building additional runways at a cost that was not included in the original BRAC funding. Estimated costs of the alternatives were not available but would be included in the final draft of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

I'm morbidly curious as to how a unit of nearly fifty supercruising F-35 fighters based ten miles from our two busiest facilities will affect our already completely whacked unique operation.

New T-6B Texans Arrive at Whiting NAS

From the Pensacola News Journal:

A pair of T-6B Texan II aircraft taxi down the runway at Whiting Field Naval Air Station Thursday morning Aug. 27, 2009. T-6B Texans are among the first of new training aircraft to be delivered to NAS Whiting Field. The Texans scheduled to replace the current T-34 trainer as Navy's primary flight trainer.

Louis Cooper - August 27, 2009: Threatening skies did not keep the next generation of training air craft from arriving at Whiting Field Naval Air Station this morning.

Whiting's Training Air Wing 5 took delivery of its first two T-6B Texan II training aircraft, which will replace the T-34 Turbo Mentor. The older craft have been in use by the Navy since 1978.

"It's pretty exciting to be bringing in a new training system that is going to train these airborne warriors for the next couple of decades," said Marine Col. John Walsh, commodore of Training Air Wing 5.

He pointed out that the T-34 he trained in at Whiting in 1987 is still in use today.

"You can see around here we're not big fans of the cash for clunkers program," Walsh said, with laughter from the crowd assembled in a hangar.

"We like to keep things flying around here. The taxpayers buy things for us, we take good care of it and we put it to good use."

The new plane will fly a maximum of 316 knots, where as the old one topped out at 280 knots. Whiting will receive periodic shipments of the new plane until it reaches a total of 156 on 2015. Student pilots will begin using the new planes in April.
These two were doing laps around North Whiting this morning. Fast airplanes. I'm wondering how well they're going to mesh in the pattern with the South Whiting helicopters.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Day 483" has just published a new 1000 word short story of mine titled "Day 483". EDF posts a new short story every day, 365 days a year. They have a pretty strict selection process, so I'm pleased that they included my story in their roster.

The story is a dark historical piece about an infamous period in 20th century history: the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. For 900 days, the Nazis blockaded the Soviet city and left its citizens starving to death over three brutal arctic winters. It is estimated 1.5 million Russians perished, most simply fading away from the hunger and the cold.

"Day 483" is a glimpse into the horror of those desperate times:

Any feedback is welcome. Feel free to post comments beneath the story.

Punching Holes in a Leaky Hull

I'm going to break from the norm on this blog and make one comment on the new contract:

We've all heard the arbitrators' results by now. Truly bittersweet. I know many were hoping we'd see the last three years of the White Book erased and everybody made whole again. That's obviously not what happened.

Yes, I'm happy that myself and the other new guys are getting a phased raise over the next three years. That'll be very nice. I'm looking forward to many of the other changes in the TAUs as well.

However, I am not happy that the people who have the most to offer - both to the public for safety and to us neophytes who need them to pass on their decades of experience- are getting the short end of the stick. They stuck their necks out for us three years ago in fighting the B-scale, and now they get shafted.

Given the economy and the need to compromise, I wasn't expecting everyone to walk away completely satisfied. Would I have liked a full, immediate raise? Sure. Would I have liked back-pay for the thousands of dollars of per diem myself and my classmates rightfully deserved - and did not receive - during our Tower class in early '07? Of course. Who wouldn't? But such is the nature of compromise. You lose one thing to gain another.

But the old guys and gals? They really didn't gain a thing. There was no compromise. And it sucks - for them, for us trainees, and for the flying public. They no longer have a real reason to stay past retirement.

We have two people eligible to retire. We have two more eligible within the next few months. We just lost one person to a staff position. Another one just got promoted to supervisor. Since I've been here, we've had an additional seven people either retire or transfer to other facilities as supervisors. Insofar as I know, there are no new developmentals scheduled for this year, though there is a rumor of one or two transfers.

If those four potential retirees decide to go, that leaves us with nineteen CPCs and six Developmentals to run a nine scope, 24/7 operation. The six day weeks and 10 hour days many other facilities have been living with are almost certainly in our future.

Am I looking forward to the pay and other changes? Sure. But I think in some ways we're losing more than what we're gaining. Some things - like experience - just can't be replaced.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Blues

We continue to have visitors in our neck of the woods: my parents and some family friends. I took them to see the Blue Angels practice over at NAS Pensacola. Aside from my dad - who is a phenomenal aviation photographer - none of them had ever seen the Blues perform before. The same goes for my wife. They all came away very impressed.

My wife kept talking about the sound they made, how it just knocks you in the gut. It was the first time she's ever heard afterburners. Her favorite part, of course, was the "sneak pass" where the two solos come screaming by at nearly Mach 1 - one from directly behind the crowd and the other along the airfield.

Here are some pics I took with my little point-and-shoot camera. I can't wait to see the ones my dad took with his far-superior image-stabilized camera equipment.

The diamond flight in formation, smoke on and condensation popping off the wings.

Shooting for the moon

Solos doing a high-alpha pass

Solo climbing out after the high-alpha, condensation breaking off the leading edge extensions

Solo coming back down

When the Blues practice, we completely shut down the airspace around NAS Pensacola. This restriction has a radius of 6 miles and goes out to 10,000 feet, and usually lasts from 8:30am to 9:30am on the days the Blues are practicing.

It's funny to watch Sherman's Training Wing 6 scatter like ants before the dreaded 8:30am rolls around. No one can arrive or depart while the Blues have the field, so Sherman usually pumps out T-6 Texan IIs, T-39 Sabreliners, T-1 Jayhawks, and T-45 Goshawks like it's nobody's business. We'll go from two stripbays full of proposals to nothin' in no time flat.

Once the Blues start taxiing out, the gates lock up tight. A few weeks back, we had this one Jayhawk coming in at around 8:25am. The controller working Sherman tried to get him in and called up the tower. The guy was descending like a rock, flooring the gas pedal, and was only a few miles north of the field. "Sorry" the tower sup said. "The Blues are on the move." The Jayhawk had to divert to Mobile, AL.

It's just the way it goes with the Blues.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Days

It's been a surprisingly busy summer, with family visiting and a lot of projects in the works.

Firstly, I'd like to direct your attention here ---->

A few people have expressed an interest in making donations to the blog. I know many authors just put up a big PayPal donation button. I'm not really comfortable with that. I'm a big believer in giving folks something for their money, whether it's an album of MP3s or some original fiction.

Via those links to the right you can help support this blog and my varied creative endeavors.
  • Escape the Clouds is my own instrumental musical project, a blend of many different sounds from hard rock to industrial to Latin rhythms to steampunk to electronica. I play and record all of the instrumentation - guitar, bass, drums, keys, synths, etc.. It's something I've done for years. The band name comes from music's power to shove away all of your troubles.

    I've also started working on a second album. Demo tracks are available here:

  • Steampunk Tales is now available on all platforms, not just iPhone. The PDF version is only $1.99. It is DRM free and includes 10 original short stories - over 120 pages of reading! My story is titled "A Grain of Sand".

    Click here to buy!

    Also, I just found out one of my other stories has been picked up for a new issue. This particular story is the longest and my favorite of the ones I've completed so far (about 15,000 words). I'll post more when I find out the publication specifics.

ATC Updates

So far, I've been recommended for a couple of the Pensacola scopes. However, we've basically had to stop training over the past few weeks due to staffing. Our new TRACON building is nearing completion and they had to pull seven people off the floor to send to STARS cadre training for two weeks. Lots of OT as a result for the remaining CPCs. In addition, we developmentals were used for coverage, so there was slim pickings for training.

On the upside, the new building's looking good. It's a smaller, one-story facility as opposed to the three story "battleship" we have now, but I'm looking forward to the new STARS scopes. One thing I don't like about it is that there are far fewer places to hide. In our current building, if you want to go read a book or fool around on your laptop in a quiet place, we've got a lot of spaces where you can still hear the pager but there aren't a lot of people around. The new building's a lot more compact and we're all just going to be on top of each other.

I took these pics in the winter. I haven't been over there since, but apparently all the new equipment's in and they're getting close to completion. The switchover is scheduled for October and it actually seems to be right on schedule.

New TRACON, next to the new PNS tower (built late 90's)

The radar room. Ah, that new TRACON smell.

The back porch, looking out on runway 17/35.

Grilling Time

Summer wouldn't be complete without the smell of outdoor grilling, and we aimed to make good.

My in-laws came to town for a week and a half for their anniversary. We Hispanics usually equate family time with food, and this was no exception. My wife and I broke out the grill and went to town. We're normally pretty light eaters by ourselves, but for that week we just decided to enjoy ourselves food-wise.

Fired up, ready to go: Chicken, brats, and peppers

Movie Night snacks. Front to back, right to left: half-size burgers, pepper and goat cheese salad, fig and cheese puffs, risotto and cheese balls, zucchini fritters, spinach and cheese puff pastry, and some refreshing strawberry lemonade my wife whipped up.

Sunday special: Potato and beets salad, homemade moros (rice and beans mix), chicken wings, sausage, steaks, and pepper and homegrown eggplant salad.

In-Laws' Anniversary: Steak, homemade gravy, and homemade risotto and cheese balls

Breakfast: Homemade guava pastries

Let's just say, after the in-laws went home, the missus and I went back to eating salads and wraps. I'm actually eating a nice healthy turkey wrap right now. :) Need to get back on an even keel before I capsize!