Midshift Ops

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I can’t say about other facilities, but the three in which I worked had generally “looser” operations after midnight than on the other two shifts. Some of them were operational short cuts, some were bending of procedures, some were just plain conveniences. Below are some examples:

I liked silent handoffs, but there were some who weren’t comfortable with them. Some of those who didn’t care for them potentially had a valid argument, because they weren’t a good idea under certain circumstances. Others, however, were the same kind of people who would sit for several minutes at a red light out in the country at 0300 with not a car in sight.

Within the facility, when there was a high degree of confidence that the requisite strips had been prepared and delivered, silent handoffs were a very low risk activity—everyone knows the flight is coming, you can see the targets beyond your sector boundary, when the flight shows up on frequency it’s not a surprise and one can have the aircraft ident in any event. In fact, before radar, that’s how airplanes wound up on your frequency as a normal operation. In a mixed environment, it was the same except your identification of the aircraft had particular meaning—it was the first time in many miles, maybe thousands—that the flight had been in radar contact. In ZJX we used to get an Eastern flight daily flying from SJU to ORD that came up oceanic airways, non-radar, and show up on our frequency at SMELT. You had a strip on him and you could see his target twenty or so miles before SMELT. We identified him and moved on. Yawn.

I was less sanguine about doing it inter-facility becuase there were a lot more places where a ball could drop. I didn’t mind if ORD called me with a departure when they got the strip down from the tower (serious old days talk there) and then just turn him over as he climbed out of 15, 000 or so. That was pretty low risk. However, I’d not be comfortable with just shipping the inbounds to them with no prior notice or coordination. Their airspace was too confined and the risks were magnified by that.

Our Letter of Agreement (LoA) with ORD provided that inbounds to ORD would cross the arrival fix at 11,000 and inbounds to MDW would cross the arrival fix at 6,000. Those restrictions were the backbone of daytime (and evening time) operations. However, when the whole west side of our facility was combined into one sector, and when the whole approach/departure control at ORD was combined into one position, the crossing restrictions weren’t so necessary, because there was no one’s separate airspace to protect. Consequently, if I had a high performance biz jet (a Lear, for example) inbound to MDW at 0200 I didn’t see any need for him to have to drag a dirty airplane over 25 miles of Will County at 6,000' just to satisfy a procedure that had no relevance at that hour. So, I left them up. I often saw Lears cross JOT (the usual “6,000' restriction point”) at FL240. Occasionally I’d run into an ORD guy who didn’t like that.

“The Letter of Agreement doesn’t disappear at midnight!” he’d yell over the line (which everyone in the control room could hear). Well, yes, it did, when most any other guy was on at ORD. I’d have to suck it up, of course, and get succeeding Lears down to a reasonable altitude, although paradoxiacally, that same guy was okay with 10,000 or 12,000 at JOT—just not FL240.

I’ve mentioned games on mids in other stories. We played all sorts from chess, to Avalon Hill war games (Gettysburg was a popular one), to Trivial Pursuit, to Risk, to Empire Builder, to Wooden Ships, to some I can’t name (no, really, because I don’t know their names). We played cribbage, euchre, pinochle, hearts, and spades. As personal computers got portable, we even had them in, too (pre-internet during my years). I have a suspicion that after I left things may have changed—almost assuredly during the infamous “White Book” years of Imposed Work Rules. I would also suspect that mids are a lot harder to get through as a result. At a friend’s blog, he relates how, in his facility (ZTL) they weren’t even allowed to read anything other than official manuals. Talk about a soporific at the worst possible time…

I’ve discussed sleeping in other stories so won’t expand on it here. It (or lack of it) was just another component of working mids.

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Last updated: 15 May 2011