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I’ve indicated elsewhere that some ATC stories might not have actually happened, but perhaps should have happened. Here are a couple of which I was reminded by a recent ATC blog post:
This is attributed to Chick Crosby, a former East Terminal controller, who is alleged to have said it during a PAPPI (Northeast ORD arrival fix) inbound rush. Background: we did a lot of sequencing to get arrivals lined up for ORD. Speed control was a fundamental, and it was a cardinal rule amongst controllers that “thou shall not reduce speed on one’s own within 150 miles of ORD.” It messed up the sequencing and was extremely irritating when one did so.
|CC:||American Four-twenty-five, say your speed.|
|AA425:||Uh, we slowed down to 250 knots.|
|CC:||American Four-twenty-five, if you can’t keep in step, you can’t be in the big parade—turn right, heading 280.|
And he turned him out of the sequence to bring him back around to the rear of the pack.
In the old broadband days (plain old radar with no data blocks and no altitude readout) non-discrete beacon codes (those ending with “zero zero”) were used. An interstratum code of 2000 was used for aircraft transitioning from Low to High.
When aircraft came on to the departure controller’s frequency from ORD, they were instructed to squawk 2000 and to report leaving Flight Level 210. The altitude report was so the departure sector had a reasonable assurance that the aircraft was above the Wing area’s traffic. The aircraft would report, “…out of twenty one,” and we’d switch them to High who would clear them higher.
Saying the same thing to airplane after airplane, day after day, can occasionally get old enough to inspire creative clearances. One wag is reputed to have told departures on initial contact to “squawk a ton and check blackjack.”
This story had been attributed to Lou Bollero, one of those old time leftovers from the ’50s still working in West Terminal when I got there in 1976. Lou’s best days were long behind him, but he regularly soldiered on, working RFD, West Departures, and West Satellite—the lesser demanding sectors of the area. One day an aircraft called him in marginal conditions wanting to pick up an IFR clearance somewhere. Although unflustered by the relatively uncommon, but nonetheless, routine request, Lou was a little busy at the time. He wrote the callsign on a blank strip and started issuing the clearance, “November 1234, cleared to DPA, via direct RFD, direct, maintain… and while talking and writing, he looked at his board to see what altitudes he had available, couldn’t find a single one, and without missing a beat, said, “don’t maintain nothing.”
I’ve been informed by a former coworker, who was a witness to the event, that it was actually a character nicknamed “Texas Ed” (I’ll not post his last name—those who knew him know what it is and those who don’t have no need). And he was actually working the West Satellite sector and the aircraft was trying to pick up fairly close in, although that tidbit isn’t critical to the story. The sector and guilty party are hereby set to rights, courtesy of my friend, Dwight.
When I came to High Altitude at ZAU in 1973 there was a character by the name of “Old Mike” enshrined in the area. He was a legend. I don’t know that I ever knew his whole name and I don’t recall working with him much—he got a long sought transfer to ZAB or ZDV shortly after I arrived. But he was legendary—tales of his exploits abounded and he was somehow able to get away with stuff we younger troops could never have.
In one of my favorite stories in which he was the reputed protagonist, “Old Mike” was working a mid night shift, which at ZAU had the entire west side of the facility combined at one sector. There was always the red eye inbound rush around 0500, but for most of the night, there were only four or five airplanes on the frequency at one time (in an airspace some 250 miles long and 150 miles wide—lots of airspace, few airplanes. Anyway, the other controller on the shift was on a break and “Old Mike” was operating alone when he felt the call of nature. Threre wasn’t a good solution except to get up and go. So, he announced on the frequency, “you’ll have to excuse me for a few minutes—I have to make a head call (or some such euphemism). United 735, you’re in charge, ” and without another word, he got up, went out, came back, announced his return, and the story became legend.
As with all such stories, there’s no “what happened after that?” resolution.
Last updated: 04 January 2013