Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Traffic Call of the Day

I was working a flight of T-34s outbound from Whiting at 5500 feet when I got a surprise handoff from Jacksonville Center: an F/A-18 Hornet screaming along VFR at 4500 feet.

The Hornet's route would take him directly under the T-34s. They were my only traffic and the T-34 flight lead sounded thrilled to be in his cockpit. I figured I may as well give him some added excitement and point out the Hornet, since there's usually not much in that neck of the woods other than, well, other T-34s. Besides, they were only 1000 feet apart vertically so a traffic call was in order.

Me: "Blackbird 123 and flight, traffic, twelve o'clock, four miles, southwest-bound, 4500, F-18 Hornet."
BB123: (excitedly) "Oh! Roger! Searching for traffic."
Hornet: (chimes in) "Radar."
Me: "Blackbird 123, do you have him in sight?"
BB123: "Negative."
Hornet: (somewhat exasperated) "Approach, I've got radar contact on him."
Me: (thinks about it) "Errr... Oh! Hornet, roger."

It was pretty amusing to hear an airplane say "radar contact" regarding another aircraft. I guess I just don't work too many aircraft that have their own onboard Hughes/Raytheon fire control radar suite.

Now, things would have gotten real interesting if a moment later the Hornet driver yelled out, "Fox three!" :)


Northwestern ATC said...

I used to hear the pilots say "radar contact" all the time when I worked F-15s. It gives you NOTHING. Also, good show on giving traffic, but don't get lulled into the trap of trying to pry "traffic in sight" out of the pilots. A situation like this, with possible merging targets, requires a traffic call, but there's no need for the pilots to call traffic in sight and, if they do call it, there's nothing further for you to do anyways. DON'T be one of those "Maintain Visual Separation" people who try to over-separate VFR aircraft!

Sounds as if you're coming along nicely!

Steve said...

4 miles seems a little close for a AMRAAM. After that radio exchange, it's probably too close for a sidewinder too... the only option left...

"To close for missiles, switching to guns."

Wicked Penguin said...

@NW ATC: I definitely wasn't relying on the F-18's radar for separation. I treated it like when an airliner responds to a traffic call with, "We've got him on TCAS." TCAS doesn't mean anything to me separation-wise. For visual sep, I need a lock with the Mark I eyeball.

As it was, they were both VFR, a thousand feet apart vertically, and I'd done my traffic call duty. VFR is VFR - hopefully keeping the eyes outside the cockpit.

@Steve: Hehe, true. Considering our traffic - mostly Navy, most of the time - this place is ripe for Top Gun-isms.

Controller 1: "Hey, I know you've got like 10 planes doing practice approaches, but can you take one more?"
Controller 2: "Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full!"

Anonymous said...

Unless I am missing something, like the planes were climbing/descending, AND you would have lost your minimum 500' vertical, AND the targets were going to merge, no traffic call was required. Waste of time when you're busy. Learn the merging target rules, because one day you'll be down the cruder and you'll waste time on these calls when you should be scanning and typing and talking and typing and scanning and talking.

Anonymous said...


Care to elaborate for us Newbs?

I've studied into the "your judgement unless vertical less that minima and targets will overlap" but I'm bombarded by tradition and the people calling "maintain visual separation" between vfr-vfr and vfr-ifr.

Steve said...

Even at 500' vertical sep, does merging targets apply? There is no minimum IFR to VFR or VFR to VFR.

This seems like an "additional services" call from the beginning. What's the harm in this if he had the time? Or are you guys working to rule now?

Anonymous said...

Clearly outside of Class C. Useless traffic call, absolutely no conflict. Get a life!

Wicked Penguin said...

Man, some of you guys have taken a fun little post and made it all serious-like.


a. Except while they are established in a holding pattern, apply merging target procedures to all radar identified:

1. Aircraft at 10,000 feet and above.

2. Turbojet aircraft regardless of altitude.

Doesn't specify whether or not one or both of the aircraft have to be turbojet. The Hornet was essentially head-on with the other aircraft.

In addition, the Hornet was a highly unusual sight in an area that's normally 98% T-34s. Our standard procedures call for Navy fighters to recover IFR at high altitudes - FL200 and up from the north, 16,000 from the east.

Having one barreling in VFR right through our Whiting sector was unexpected.

Yes, they were VFR. Yes, they had 1,000 feet vertical. Yes, those were the only two aircraft I had. Yes, one was a turbojet and its target was merging with the other aircraft. Yes, they were unlikely to hit. But I thought, since it was both an unusual event and a merging target situation with a fast-moving fighter head-on with a flight of Navy trainers, a traffic call sure couldn't hurt.

That's all.

Anonymous said...

I think the traffic call was fine. When running an acft under refuelers with more than standard separation, I issue traffic quite often, for the same reason you issued traffic on the Hornet.

Anonymous said...


You did not state the entire "Merging Target Procedures".

You forgot to mention the...

"Issue traffic information to those A/C listed in subparagraph 'a' whose targets appear likely to merge UNLESS THE AIRCRAFT ARE SEPARATED BY MORE THAN THE APPROPRIATE VERTICAL SEPARATION MINIMA".

I will tell you that many a developmental wastes a lot of his time and energy on these kind of calls.

SCAN, TALK, TYPE. Then you should SCAN, TYPE, TALK. Then you should...

Steve said...


Anonymous said...


I fly out of Whiting and would have welcomed that traffic advisory! Sometimes us studs (students) need a little motivation! You know, like sharing the sky with an F/A-18 while you're zipping around in an orange and white airplane just learning to fly. Besides, it builds good habit patterns with regards to see and avoid!

Anonymous said...

They're 'always' twelve o'clock and three miles.

Anonymous said...

Provide Class C services to all participating aircraft in the outer area.