Thanks For The Memory

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As Roddy and I discussed the contents of this tome, he insisted that I include this story. Not given to self aggrandizement, I was reluctant but he insists, despite the possible consequence of big head it entails. Roddy early on recognized that I have a good memory. I didn’t come to understand that I did until I was in my 40s. Anyway, he likes to relate this story as an example.

We used to work traffic on a radar scope that was in the horizontal position—sort of like having a three foot diameter table in front of you. In order to keep track of which airplanes were which, we used little plastic markers we called shrimp boats. On each was the call sign of the flight and its altitude (in ZAU, we only had the call sign on the boats—one of many differences in procedure between the facilities). As the flight moved through the sector, the controller periodically moved the shrimp boat to keep up with the target. As the flight neared the sector boundary, coordination would be effected (usually on a voice landline, but on side-by-side sectors by physically transferring the shrimp boat over to the adjacent radar scope), and the pilot would be instructed to contact the succeeding sector, usually about 15 or 20 miles from the boundary.

Many controllers would keep tracking the target with the shrimp boat until it physically exited the sector’s airspace. I, however, usually picked up the shrimp boat as I switched the airplane, both as a mental checklist for having changed him over, and to rid the scope of unneeded clutter. I later came to learn that not everyone was comfortable with that…at all. One time Roddy decided to quiz me and he pointed to a target 50 miles north of our sector (CHS High) well into ZDC’s airspace. “Who’s that?” he asked.

“National 231, FL 290” I replied, not realizing I was being tested.

He repeated a similar exercise a couple more times and then gave up. He simply could not believe I could remember those things. He would have really been impressed to watch me work the red eye inbound rush in ZAU years later when I had the whole of West Side high altitude on one scope—I routinely worked that 20-25 airplane rush with no shrimp boats at all. My D-sides at the time were not.

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Last updated: 14 April 2009