Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. I'm feeling much more confident about things.

I had three training sessions in a row yesterday. The first, I worked both the East and West sectors combined. Basically, the entire northern 2/3 of our airspace was under my control, and I actually had a lot of fun with it. The ceiling was dropping steadily all day, so I got some IFR and marginal VFR experience in the mix. I handled everything pretty well, I think. I kept very good control over my traffic and my coordination. I didn't fall behind, even when I was seeing things that I had never seen before. I'm pleased.

The second session was just the West side, and the third had me working the P/AR sector - the final sector. It's a small area of airspace that extends 15 miles along the Pensacola Regional final and owns up to 3000 feet. Normally, the P/AR is combined up into the East and West sectors, but for a change of pace our supervisor had it split off on its own. It forces the rest of the room to think differently when feeding any aircraft to the Pensacola airport. It was actually a pretty cool exercise.

I also spoke with my supervisor a bit concerning the skill check he gave me last week (which ultimately led to my "Frustrated" post). A lot of what we discussed revolved around what I mentioned in that post: my speed and scan need improvement. Once I let those slide, I start getting behind and getting into trouble. I placed a lot of emphasis on those yesterday and it paid off well. I stayed ahead of the game.

One of the things he also mentioned was that the level of traffic I was working during that skill check could have been handled by a CPC, but that CPC would have been on the very edge of needing an assist position. It made me feel better knowing that even a CPC would have had a difficult time with that workload and complexity. It wasn't just busy for me, but plain old busy for anyone who would have been working it.

After the training sessions, I worked the Whiting NAS sectors a couple of times on my own. It was more of the usual squirrelly IFR stuff: lots of IFR pickups, aircraft deviating all over the place, a stack of holding aircraft the full height of my airspace, and VFR On Top departures needing to climb to 10,000 feet to cancel IFR. In addition, one of my neighboring sectors gave me several bad feeds that had me reworking my plan several times. That particular controller - a CPC - seems to make a habit of passing on problems to other sectors with the attitude, "let 'em figure it out." They're a cool person outside of the radar room, but not exactly someone who I want to emulate very much at a radar scope. Regardless, I just made it work and everyone got where they needed to be.

Good things continued after I got off work. My wife found out her work schedule change request went through. She and I only have one car between us, and the public transportation system in this city is very limited. I have access to buses at the airport, but she works out in the boonies. So, the car situation is constantly being juggled.

Her new schedule gives us a lot more time together since she'll be getting home much earlier now. Mon and Tues, I still have to hang out at the airport terminal cafe for a couple of hours before I go into work, but not nearly as long as I used. They've got free Wi-Fi and it gives me some time to catch up on writing, phone calls, and e-mails. On Thursday I can ride my bike home. I don't mind the latter at all - it's 4.5 miles and good exercise. It helps combat the effects of a very sedentary job.

Besides, we don't have a gym at our place like Miami Tower does. :)

The only downside to yesterday was my laptop dying on me. It seems either the power adapter or the power plug on the laptop itself went kaput. I have most of my writing and music projects on an external drive, so those aren't affected. I really don't want to have to buy a new laptop at this time, but if it's dead I will definitely do that. While I've got a kick-ass machine at home, I use my laptop everywhere - at work (no, I'm not responsible for the data breach...), the airport, on the back patio, at restaurants, and pretty much anywhere else that has a power plug. Everything depends on how much it will cost to replace it versus repair it. If it comes to replacement, I'll likely get a Toshiba for about $700.


Julien said...

Hi Penguin,

Great post as usual. Nice to hear you're building up confidence. For those of us who are not too familiar with ATC, can you explain what goes into a training session? Is that the same as a normal session just with someone looking over your shoulder? Are you handling real traffic or simulated traffic? What happens if you screw something up?

Fingers crossed it's nothing too expensive with your laptop. Otherwise your readers may need to chip in to keep the posts coming :-)


PS: You're the first person in a long long time I hear use the expression "the boonies". The last time I heard that was in the mouth of an Irish person. Any connection?

Weak Stick said...

Make sure that you check out the actual connector with which the power plug attaches to the motherboard. That's a VERY common point of failure; I've seen all kinds of repair places that will fix it for under $100.

Good job keeping up. Get a few more sessions like that, and keep learning from the crap that other "professional" controllers feed you, and you'll be a CPC before you know it!

Wicked Penguin said...

@Julien: Here at my facility, we have no simulators. We always train with live traffic.

Every radar position here has two headset jacks which can be used to actually talk to aircraft. There are other monitoring jacks throughout the room where you can plug in and listen to radar positions, but you can't actually talk to their traffic.

A typical session will have my instructor and I plugged directly into the radar scope via those first two jacks. I will do all the talking on the radio and the landlines. I will also do all the paperwork - strips, PiReps, etc.. This is all with real traffic, real situations, real airspace - no sims. Sims do not provide the pucker factor of "Uh oh, is that going to work...?" :)

In the meantime, my instructor will basically be looking over my shoulder, listening and watching what I'm doing. He'll be answering my questions, offering suggestions, or, when the situations calls for it, telling me what to do with an airplane. If I get too far behind - or make a serious mistake - my instructor will override me on the radio.

Basically, a good radar training session is one where your instructor doesn't have to say a thing.

For skill checks, a supervisor will plug into one of the other monitoring jacks in the room. He'll listen to me on the radio and watch what I do with my traffic from a spare radar scope. Typically, he'll also take notes on things that did right and wrong which will later be typed up into a training report.

And nope, not I'm not Irish! Actually half-Cuban, half-German. Not sure where I picked up "boonies". It's been in my vocab for years.

@Weak Stick: Thanks for the tip - good to know that it's not that expensive. I jimmied with it a little, and it seems to be working okay now. This laptop - an Acer - seems to have power issues. I'm on my second AC adapter, the battery life has never been more than 1.5 hours, and it's got some serious heating issues.

I've found that you learn by watching not only what you should do, but what you shouldn't do.

Julien said...

Thanks! Julien.

robert said...

As a former military and FAA controller, over 30 years working traffic. I started working traffic at KNUW approach. The DOD and military instructors were very fair, yet very strict. The training program had, what was referred to as Knowing and Doing units. The training program consisted of six steps to facility rating, ASR/PAR, ACLS, ARR Data, DEP Data/CD, DEP, ARR. Each step required 1 to 3 binders of self study material, There was no 7110.65 when i started, sorry. To show you had the knowing units down, you would take exams covering parts of the position binder that you in training on. Normally 3 exams, followed by a final exam. The fun part starts right after the non-radar training. All of this was without FDEP/FDIO, hand written strips. No ARTS, worked with TPX-42. I can tell you some horror stories, but that will have to wait til another time. RJ