My Visit to the TRACON and Class Bravo Tower (Kinda Long)

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by TRocket, Dec 4, 2017.

  1. TRocket

    TRocket Line Up and Wait

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    795
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Uncle Jesse
    I have been meaning to do this write up for a little while but just now getting around to it. Many will encourage (and I would agree) pilots to try to visit a local ATC facility to get a better understanding of the other side of the mic so to speak. Earlier this year I visited the tower at a local Class D airport and it was a good experience. I decided I would take that to the next level and try to get a visit to a Class B ATC facility.

    I wasn't exactly sure how to go about this, so I just called the tower and asked if it would be possible to arrange a tour. I told them I was a local private pilot with an instrument rating and wanted to get a better understanding of the ATC side of things. The gentleman on the phone said he would see what he could do and get back to me, so I left my name and number. A few hours later, I get a call from another gentleman to set it up, we find a time that works and he gives me exact instructions of where to be and when, as well as who I would be meeting with.

    When I got there, I traded my driver's license for a visitor badge and parked at the base of the tower. When I walked to the door, a gentleman in a suit comes out of the tower as I arrive and takes me inside for the tour. He used to be a controller but has exceeded the age limits, now works as a staffer so he knew what he was talking about. First stop was the TRACON, after leaving our phones outside the door of course. For me, it was really something to see, well after my eyes adjusted that is, when I say it was dark in there, it was DARK. He first showed me a big screen on the wall, it showed all the flights coming into the airport from all over the entire country. Then we went over to a regular unoccupied radar screen, showed me the basics, what everything on each target meant, etc. Explained how hand-offs work and how there is a person primarily responsible for communicating with and coordinating with other surrounding facilities. This is where I also learned a fun fact I did not know, but controllers are required to have second class medicals. I'm sure many of you knew that, I certainly did not. We also had a good discussion about privatization of ATC, what he thought about it, the controllers union stance and more. I'll save that for another day.

    Then we went up to the tower, after taking the elevator as high as it went, we walked up the very old steel spiral stair case. Then we made it to the top, overlooking the entire massive airfield. It was a really cool view to take in, and off in the distance, the massive new tower being built to replace the one I was currently standing in. When I focused inside the tower, I was expecting a bunch of uptight, prim and proper controllers working up there. It was quite the contrary, it was a lot more laid back. Straight ahead of me was a new controller being trained by a seasoned guy, to my left a very nice lady sitting at a desk, looked to be handling ATIS if I remember correctly, to my right is a controller handling traffic wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey, and right in front of me was a guy sitting at a big computer screen handling clearances. In the trash can next to him, were a bunch of the old strips that they used to have the IFR flight plans printed on, I was surprised when he told me that was still how they were doing it up until a few months ago when they switched to a computer based system. I guess I should have asked why the trash hadn't been taken out in a few months, but I digress. While we were in the tower, he explained to me how the operations basically worked, which runways were primarily used for takeoffs and which were used for arrivals, which was primarily for international traffic, how ground traffic flow worked and their basic procedures for takeoff and landing sequences. It was pretty cool to see and I was surprised at how relaxed of an environment it was, or at least seemed to be to me.

    We made our way back down to the ground level, making small talk and following up on any questions I had from the visit. I told him even though I am just flying around in a Cherokee or 172 most days, I would like to fly into the Class B airport just to experience it, and I asked if I would be a nuisance to the controllers. He said that is no problem at all and they would be happy to accommodate me, just asked that I do it during their slow times. He then went into another office, took a copy of the slow times schedule off the wall and made me a photo copy. Walked me to the front door, shook hands and parted ways. Got my ID back at the guard shack on my way out and headed home.

    It was a really cool experience, I learned a lot and really appreciate them taking the time to show me the facility, how things worked, and going out of their way to answer any questions I had. To anyone who might be curious about what it is like, I HIGHLY suggest it. Sorry for the long post, but thought this would be good to share.
     
    916Bob, abqtj, Radar Contact and 6 others like this.
  2. Ryanb

    Ryanb Final Approach PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2010
    Messages:
    5,750
    Location:
    Tennessee
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Ryan
    Excellent write up! I concur that all pilots should visit an ATC facility. Neat to put a face on many controllers you work with too!
     
    TRocket likes this.
  3. luvflyin

    luvflyin En-Route

    Joined:
    May 8, 2015
    Messages:
    4,189
    Location:
    San Diego, CA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Luvflyin
    The 'uptight, prim and proper' don't last long
     
  4. CC268

    CC268 En-Route

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2015
    Messages:
    3,465
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    CC268
    Sounds almost exactly like my experience to KPHX control tower lol
     
  5. mscard88

    mscard88 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2015
    Messages:
    19,662
    Location:
    Alabama
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Mark
    Nice write-up TRocket, wasn't long at all when it's written correctly. Glad you enjoyed. Try a visit to a Center sometime in you can. Basically like the TRACON but larger.

    When I worked at an Air Force tower once, a bunch of young kids came up to visit. One of the clown controllers (not me I swear) told the kids that he controlled what the jets were doing with the light gun. See that plane, watch, I'll give him a green light and he'll takeoff, and on and on. Welllll turns out one of the kids dad was an IP on the base and the kid was telling dad of the visit and the controller working the jets with the light gun. The IP didn't appreciate it, complained to the Chief Controller, and said controller was counseled. And I was NOT up there when it happened, I was on another crew!
     
  6. TRocket

    TRocket Line Up and Wait

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    795
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Uncle Jesse
    I'm going to try and visit Atlanta Center in the spring. It's like half a mile from the race track in Hampton and looking at the preliminary schedule I should have time to do it.
     
  7. mscard88

    mscard88 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2015
    Messages:
    19,662
    Location:
    Alabama
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Mark
    When I first got hired at ASA, based in ATL, the IP took the class to ATL Center, along w/ ATL tower. Very cool. So, what's the connection w/ the track and you, are you a racer?
     
  8. TRocket

    TRocket Line Up and Wait

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    795
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Uncle Jesse
    Nah I don't race myself, I work in racing as an engineer.
     
  9. mscard88

    mscard88 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2015
    Messages:
    19,662
    Location:
    Alabama
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Mark
    Cool. What team? Of course don't have to answer if ya don't wanna. Did some flying for Bill Elliot years ago.
     
  10. TRocket

    TRocket Line Up and Wait

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    795
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Uncle Jesse
    I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you. My instructor did some flying for Ernie Irvan back in the day as well. His kid (Bill's kid) is really into flying from what I understand.
     
  11. Skyrys62

    Skyrys62 Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2017
    Messages:
    1,552
    Location:
    Owensboro, KY
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Skyrys62
    I'm glad you wrote this. Just Saturday I took my first two passengers out. And I was thinking to myself as I was talking to the controller that I want to go visit the tower... But thought they might not let me in due to security. Now I'll give it the effort for sure. Might even take my grandson ..he will think that's awesome.
     
  12. TRocket

    TRocket Line Up and Wait

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    795
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Uncle Jesse
    I would really suggest it if you are interested. Just call ahead, the worst they can say is no, but I doubt that will be the case.
     
    Skyrys62 likes this.
  13. mscard88

    mscard88 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2015
    Messages:
    19,662
    Location:
    Alabama
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Mark
    Wouldn't surprise me as Bill was big into too, helio too, plus his own airport outside of Dawsonville GA.
     
  14. NoHeat

    NoHeat En-Route

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2009
    Messages:
    3,420
    Location:
    Iowa City, IA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    17
    Nice writeup.

    I'm glad that the elevator worked for you. My only ATC visit was the tower in St. Louis, and the elevator was out of service. Climbing stairs for about 160 feet was quite a chore, but the view was tremendous.
     
    TRocket likes this.
  15. eman1200

    eman1200 Final Approach

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2013
    Messages:
    8,421
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    eman1200
    blah blah
     
  16. Skyrys62

    Skyrys62 Pattern Altitude

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2017
    Messages:
    1,552
    Location:
    Owensboro, KY
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Skyrys62
    Blah humbug?
     
  17. EppyGA

    EppyGA Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2009
    Messages:
    10,123
    Location:
    Hoschton, GA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Let's Fly
    We take breakfast up to our controllers each month during our pancake breakfast.

    This is BK, one of our controllers.
     

    Attached Files:

    abqtj, Radar Contact, Cykoguy and 2 others like this.
  18. Approach_controller

    Approach_controller Pre-takeoff checklist

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2013
    Messages:
    181
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Approach_controller
    I feel your pain. My last visit to STL was to renew an ID, the tower chief having my paperwork. He mentioned the badging office was closed for an hour and invited me up to kill time. I agreed and then he mentioned the elevator was inop. Up was baaaaad. Going down with no escort... took me 15 minutes to find the right door. Up down up down up up up down.

    Incidentally my next time in a tower was BLV, 100% identical to STL tower except their odd urinal picture window (seriously a floor to ceiling window in the men's room just below the cab). You guessed it, inop elevator. Being military they turned it into pt with incentives for good times. Fastest time ground to cab was something crazy like sub 2 minutes!
     
  19. Approach_controller

    Approach_controller Pre-takeoff checklist

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2013
    Messages:
    181
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Approach_controller
    If that's a contract tower like I think it is, that's seriously awesome of your pilot community to hook up the tower guys like that!
     
  20. NoHeat

    NoHeat En-Route

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2009
    Messages:
    3,420
    Location:
    Iowa City, IA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    17
    If I had to carry breakfast up to a tower, I would choose KADM Ardmore OK. They’ve got a mobile tower which is a trailer parked right in front of the on-field restaurant. The cab is only about three feet above the ramp. It would be tough to burn even two calories by carrying breakfast from the restaurant to the tower cab.
     
  21. EppyGA

    EppyGA Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2009
    Messages:
    10,123
    Location:
    Hoschton, GA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Let's Fly
    It is a contract tower and we enjoy taking breakfast to them. We usually try and take a couple of young folks along so they can see what it is like. BK came from the military, Army I believe. Sarah Jane came from the Navy. Not sure about the rest of the crew. BK is definitely not what most people would think of as a controller.
     
  22. Velocity173

    Velocity173 Final Approach

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2012
    Messages:
    8,831
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Velocity173
    LZU? Yep, contract. Busy for a contract tower also. Had an interview for a job their years back. Ultimately chose a different path. Friend of mine at ATL TRACON said LZU is a popular place that FAA draws from.