The Academy

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OKC conjures many things—it’s the FAA identifier for Oklahoma City, of course—the airport, the principal NAVAID, the ATC facility—but in ATC it’s also a synonym for the FAA Academy which is located there. In fact, if you ask anyone who’s been in the FAA, they’ll be able to regale you with an abundance of tales of their experience there. Except me. I’ve never been. This is how it didn’t happen.

The Academy has had several iterations of curriculum over the years, and I’ll relate some of them as known to me personally. Historical episodes may be anecdotal. My understanding, once I’d passed through the gates and acquired some knowledge, was that FAA hiring of air traffic controllers had stopped some time in the 1965 range. In fact, my new neighbor was a sample of that variety and I was horrified to learn he had just completed D-school after three years in the agency and would have to bid on a “D” position once he’d completed his OJT (on-the-job-training). Frankly, I was expecting to be talking to airplanes in a few weeks and this news was a huge sabot in the gears for that notion. But, I digress—this story is about the Academy.

As a result of that dearth of hiring and the drought in the pipeline, the Acadamy was closed as a cost saving measure. By 1968, even though hiring had resumed around the first of the years, the wheels of government had not yet begun to spin, so our initial training was conducted in-house. We had two course—Flight Data School, in which we learned the area and learned to prepare flight progress strips for the controllers, and AOS, the meaning of which I’ve forgotten, but was essentially how the mechanics of the National Airspace System functioned. The first was six weeks long, and the second was about four. As a newly minted instrument rated pilot, AOS was a snooze, but again, I digress.

Demonstrating that the right hand really did know what the left hand was doing, plans had already been implemented to re-open the Academy, but probably three or four classes after mine completed in-house training before the inertia caught up to the hiring. By Summer, new hires did a tour in OKC before they reported to field facilities for local orientation and OJT.

Continuing my local training, after roughly eighteen months working in Flight Data and as an Assistant on the floor (A-side), I was scheduled for D-school—training to become a D controller, the position my neighbor from the opening paragraph had taken three years to achieve. When I got downstairs I sailed fairly quickly through D-side check out, and then started training on the radar—possibly because I’d acquired so much radar experience getting “stick time”, I was really ready. We did roughly one-day-per-sector in those days so it was probably two weeks later that I became an FPL (full performance level controller).

I included the foregoing paragraph to seque to OKC again. Someone got the idea that it might not be a bad idea to do D-side school there, too, to standardize the training and to relieve staffing at the facilities in the field. Of course, when they got around to that, not only was I already trained on the D-side, but I was radar certified, as well, so, no OKC.

The story almost gets laughable at this point, because I was an FPL in my area for probably all of a week and I was asked if I wanted to go to High Altitude, my long time dream. So, before I had two and a half years in, I was a certified FPL in two areas. But ZJX had started to bore me and, searching for greener pastures, I got a transfer to ORD, which ultimately became a transfer to ZAU. I got certified fairly quickly there (now three areas as an FPL) and someone got the bright idea to do some radar school at OKC. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t invited.

While I did start on the management track eventually, and did serve a temporary assignment as a first level supervisor, I was never selected full time and never got a trip to OKC. Technically, that school was in Lawton, but guess where you flew into to get there? Later, the FAA developed a management training school in North Florida, which I also never attended.

So, the long and short of my experience at OKC, where almost every FAAer has been at one time or another, is that I’ve never been. Not even as a traveller passing through, or changing planes, or for any reason. The closest I ever came was in the summer between my Junior and Senior year in high school when we took a trip out west. We camped one night at Quartz Mountain State Park. In Oklahoma, but nowhere near OKC. My record is unblemished. I don’t claim to be the only one with such a record—I might not be. But I’ve not met another.

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Last updated: 11 September 2014