One Armers

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If you know your ATC history at all, you know that radar was a relatively recent (in the context of a 1968 new hire) addition to the system—the first quarter century of enroute operations was comprised principally of non-radar procedures. Everyone who was hired as a controller throughout the ’40s and ’50s trained in and served as journeymen in a completely non-radar environment. I’m not sure when war surplus radars started appearing, but in the enroute facilities, Navy surplus “VG” ’scopes were installed in some of the “old” centers, such as Chicago at MDW, New York in Hangar 11 at IDL, and Jacksonville at JAX, but as traffic demand warranted, and certainly not for every sector.

As with any endeavor, when paradigm shifting changes occur, some practitioners—perfectly competent in the older methodology—are unable to cope with the new order. Such was the case facing the CAA/FAA as radar proliferated. “What do we do with these old guys who can’t adapt to radar?” They could continue to work the D-side, or even the R-side, if there was no radar associated with the sector (“R” originally meant radio position—the person talking to the airplanes—before radar came along). Consequently, there were plenty of positions to work, as a journeyman, until the early ’60s, when the new facilities were commissioned and which were predicated, almost entirely, on radar operations.

In places like ZNY, and probably ZMA, ZHU, and ZOA, one option was to move all the journeyman controllers who couldn’t certify on radar to the oceanic sectors, which were, of necessity, non-radar positions. Elsewhere, however, other considerations had to be made.

When I arrived at ZJX in 1968, there were still some people who were hired in the ’40s. Most had transitioned to radar certified controllers, but there were a handful who had not. These were people with up to twenty years of service. It would have been inhumane (not out of reach for the FAA I knew) to just terminate them, so we found them a home for their declining years. In the ’60s it wasn’t common for someone to make it to retirement (at that time, thirty years service) anyway, so the accommodation wasn’t forever. So, they spent their shifts working the D-side. It wasn’t featherbedding per se, as there were times at almost any sector when a D-side was needed, and a seriously experienced D-side was at least preferable to one who was training or newly certified on it.

Anyway, I told you all that to tell you this—we called those old guys “one armers”. Nothing sexual or derogatory (although we didn’t keep too tight a lid on either of those properties back in the day), it simply meant that if a complete journeyman radar controller had two arms, a journeyman non-radar controller only had one. Later, as the hiring stream widened, we wound up with a lot of D-side only developmental specialists who bore that apellation temporarily. They might have found it pejorative, but its etymology was not.

This is just one of the insignificant thoughts from one’s past that sometimes creep in, just before falling asleep. I thought I’d memorialize it for me and share it with you. By the way, they were gone by the ’70s—there were none that I knew of at ZAU by the time I got there.

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Last updated: 28 June 2013