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.
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.
OLD: ARTS IIE Scope
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
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":
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.
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.
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.
4 days ago