Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inside Perspective

Captain Dave from Flight Level 390 flies the Airbus A320 - what he calls "FiFi" or "The Electric Jet" - for a living with a major air carrier.

He just posted a very interesting piece on what it must have been like in the cockpit of USAir 1549 in those moments before it went into the Hudson.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Three Months

A few days before Christmas, a couple of pilots came to visit us at the TRACON. This was the crew of the DHL-owned Airborne Express DC-9 that has been parked next to the TRACON since I've been here.

This DC-9 was a staple here, our only real cargo operation aside from the half dozen light cargo haulers that come in and out everyday. Every night at the same time, trucks would line up to transfer their packages onto the airplane. A short while later, those old turbofans would spool up, splitting the night sky with an ear piercing whine. The big yellow bird would roll out and be on its way. They were usually the last airliner out the door.

Come morning, they would be the first ones in. More trucks would be waiting to pick up their cargo at daybreak. Afterwards, ground crews would break out the airplane shampoo and scrub the soot off the tail left by the old, dirty engines.

In early November 2008, I read that DHL was cutting 9500 jobs. They'd had some trouble over the years, with competition from UPS/FedEx as well as from internal strife with their new German owners. Since the 2003 merger with DHL, many of the kinks had apparently been ironed out and they were building new business. However, the economic realities of Fall 2008 had turned against them. "Survival of the fittest", as they say.

I wondered how and when this would effect the guys that flew out of here.

A month later, amongst the holiday cookies and delicious sandwiches they brought, was a card the crew had made out to the controllers of the TRACON. In carefully written script, the captain thanked us for all of our work, and added sadly that as of January 31, 2009 the AbEx DC-9s of Pensacola would be no more. DHL was closing up shop in the United States and pulling out of its agreement with AbEx. With no buyers for the old airframes, they were flying the distinct yellow airplanes out to the desert and scrapping them. No longer would I be greeted on the way into work by that yellow tail poking out over the fence. The captain had been flying "the -9" out of here for 23 years.

As December became January, the DC-9s continued flying. I'd almost forgotten the news about DHL. However, the effects of the economic downturn were plain in this small city. Small businesses of all types were closing down. Strip malls all over the place were vacant. People were holding on tightly to the money they had. The only Cuban restaurant in town shuttered its doors a few weeks ago. Linens 'n' Things failed to my wife's dismay. Circuit City announced its liquidation. Walmart and got busier. It seemed as if at every major intersection there was a guy holding up a bankruptcy or liquidation sale sign with "50%" and "70%" emblazoned on them in neon orange and yellow. The efforts and jobs of many were simply disappearing.

Last Friday, I came into work, and the old Douglas DC-9 was gone. In its place sat a tiny, little King Air.

How much things have changed in only three months.

November 2008

January 2009

Hopefully the remaining eleven months of 2009 will show a shift for the better.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fishing for Airbus

This is a pretty neat time-lapse video someone took of the USAir 1549 A320 being fished from the Hudson. It kind of reminds me of those "crane games" for kids you see in supermarkets and bowling alleys, except instead of a stuffed purple giraffe you're getting a slightly used 140 foot Airbus.

I know we're reaching media saturation with this, so I'll just say that everyone involved did a fantastic job getting those people off there. It's not a "miracle", but simply people keeping their heads cool, properly executing their training, and working together.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ringing in the New Year

Vacations have one big problem: they go by way too quickly.

We just got back from Miami. As much as my wife and I love heading down to see our family and friends, the drive sucks - plain and simple. 12 hours of monotony and tolls, and right at the end you enter the madness of Miami traffic. It's just incredible that you can drive for 12 hours, and still be within the same state. Other than California, Montana, and Texas, I doubt there's many other states with that much straight-line distance.

Readers of this blog know that when I was asked to make my state selection for the FAA, I chose only Florida, hoping that I'd get one of the many, many facilities within one evening's drive - 4 or 6 hours - of Miami. I found it extremely ironic that they placed me in the one Florida facility that was 12 hours away. While I love living here, when it comes time to drive down to Miami to visit it becomes much less ironic and far more of a pain in the ass. That "irony" manifests itself in a 24 hour round trip, 1300 miles on my only car, six full tanks of gas, and two full days of leave taken up by just the drive.

We chose to head out of here at 3am, so we could arrive in Miami in daylight and spend some time with family after we got there, instead of diving right into bed. While my wife slept the first leg (about 5 hours), I kept myself entertained.

Before we left, I had bought a mounting bracket for my Archos 504 media player. This old player's got a big, beautiful 4.5" screen and 80GB of storage, so - along with all my music - I'd loaded half a season of TV show episodes on it. I installed it on the right side of the steering wheel. On the left, I put the GPS mount for my Lowrance 500 Airmap (which died last year), but dropped my smartphone in it instead. On the cell phone, I loaded up Google Maps and used it as my main navigation source for the trip. I also bought a power converter with two USB slots for my car cigarette lighter, so instead of having multiple power adapters strung all over, I just had two thin USB cables that were easily contained and kept out of the way.

Here's what it looked like at 3:30am, on our way out from Pensacola on I-10. This is the worst part, by the way. The I-10 eastbound stretch is mile after mile of mind-numbing nothingness.

I know people will say that's unsafe. Firstly, it's not like I'm watching the thing the whole time. I really only glance at it periodically, normally when I hear a scene change so I know where the characters are talking (like an office, a headquarters, a restaurant, etc.). Secondly, having it in within my peripheral vision allows me to keep my eyes on the road without having to look down and be distracted. Thirdly, that little device helped keep me completely awake and passed the first 5 hours in no time flat.

Oh look... three hours into the drive and the sun is now just rising... LOL.

In general, I'm a good multitasker in the car. When you live in Miami and are forced to spend hours a day in your car staring at the rear of the car in front of you, you quickly find a way to entertain yourself.

Most of your drive is spent like the following photo. I took this about 6pm on December 30th on Biscayne Boulevard. Note that at least some of the lights are green, yet no one's going anywhere.

Heck, in the days before I had a cell phone, I used to carry a drum machine/synthesizer with me that was about the size of a paperback book (Yamaha QY70). I memorized the layout of the buttons and keys so I could navigate it all by feel. I once wrote the score for a friend's student film over a couple of days' worth of traffic, just creating beats and melodies.

I just do it carefully, and always keep my head up and eyes on the road.

Lightweight Heavies

It's been over a year since I'd seen an aircraft with more than two jet engines and bigger than a "large". Every single airliner that flies into Pensacola is a CRJ or ERJ regional jet, an MD88, a B717, a B738, or a B752. All narrow-bodies, all the time. Heck, yesterday was the first time I'd had to say "Caution wake turbulence" in a long, long time.

As we entered the Miami city limits via the Florida Turnpike, I looked up, and there was a Boeing 747. Then an Airbus A300. Then an Airbus A340. All this heavy metal just floating on into MIA. It was cool seeing these big guys in action. I'd grown up around them and spent plenty of time in them, but it

I'd hoped to have some time to visit Miami TRACON. Unfortunately, the timing didn't pan out. The last time I'd been there was four months before I got hired by the FAA. Seeing it now as a semi-certified controller would have been quite a different perspective. I could have asked more informed questions, at least better ones than "What are those dashed lines leading to the airport?" :)

Gamer's Delight

I'm a fairly avid gamer. I've always loved video games, both playing them and creating them. I'm not a fan of World of Warcraft or any of those other MMORPGs, but I enjoy good adventure and action games, and of course flight simulators. I'm constantly amazed by how much games and consoles have progressed since I first started out on the Atari and the Apple II (both of which we still have at my parents' house, and both of which still work flawlessly).

One of the things we picked up over the Holidays was an Xbox 360. That thing is amazing. We already have a Nintendo Wii that's been overall great, but I'm frankly tired of having to compromise graphic quality and usability. The online component of the Nintendo Wii alone makes me want to throw it out the window, with its poor integration and those ridiculous "friend codes".

Microsoft may be many horrible things, but they've really nailed the Xbox interface and online portion. It simply works beautifully and intuitively. The online gaming portion, Xbox Live makes it so easy to connect with other friends and players. I have friends that often use its voice chat in lieu of a phone. I've also linked the console up with my desktop computer at home via TVersity, a network media streaming program. Basically, I have all my music and downloaded videos on my computer, but the Xbox can read it and play them all back flawlessly over the network. I've also got the Xbox set up with my Netflix account for streaming videos.

As far as specific games, my wife and I have been playing Prince of Persia and Mass Effect. Both are fantastic in completely different ways - PoP for its puzzle-solving and illustrative art style, and ME for its enormous world and sprawling story. I've also been playing a few shooters, such as Call of Duty: World at War and Gears of War. World at War is hella fun. Nothing more relaxing than to come home from a long day at work and shoot some bloke in the head with a virtual Winchester trench gun. :)

I also managed to lose my Guitar Hero: World Tour / Rock Band 2 virginity over the vacation. Between the two games, I found Rock Band far more realistic and fun. I play guitar and bass in real life, so I didn't mess around with the guitar controllers. I did try the vocals for a bit (me doing Beastie Boys... LOL), but mostly played drums. The drums in Rock Band actually sync up with the music, while the Guitar Hero drums are more tuned with the visuals.

My first time at the mic. Yay. "Watcha Want?"

Back in the Groove

After a great few days, now we're back home, I'm back at work, and the Navy's ramping up again. My first couple days back have been pretty good, with only a couple rough spots here or there. Between the holiday traffic slowdown and my vacation, I hadn't talked to an airplane in nearly 2 weeks. I was definitely shaking some rust off.

I'm looking forward to 2009. I'm bringing some new energy to the plate. I'm eager - but not unrealistically eager - to get certified on the Pensacola bank of scopes. I just hope things start clicking more. I've identified several of my problems, such as working speed, and am doing my best to get those sorted.

Anyhow, that's it for now. I've some fresh all-ATC posts in the works. One of them's actually based on something that happened to me today. They'll be up soon.

I hope everyone has a terrific New Year!