Just A Sec

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When Roddy was a controller in the Army, he got to work lots of Hueys (UH-1 helicopters), Cobras (also a helicopter), and assorted light aircraft such as L-19s (observation plane), and military equivalents of Skymasters, King Airs, and so on. And although he did GCAs and other radar work, high altitude to him was basically 50 or 60 (five or six thousand feet). Coming to ZJX and being thrown to the wolves in High Altitude (FL240—24,000 ft—and above) was a bit of a culture shock. He had a notion that there were performance differences up in high but the airplanes were different, too, so it was all a brand new experience for a while—more so than those of us who came through low first.

One day soon after he checked out at CHS, he was sitting there during a lull with his headset off and the frequency on the speakers while engaging in some verbal grab ass with other controllers nearby. Don’t get nervous—we know how to multi-task and we have our priorities—we immediately let go of the ass when there’s something that needs attention. Anyway, he got a departure strip on an AV-8 (Harrier) off NBC climbing northeast bound, no doubt for NKT or something like that, requesting FL330.

NBC had recently acquired a fleet of Harriers and we controllers were slowly getting indoctrinated into their capabilites. I will say that previously, the Marines had flown F4 Phantoms, which were pretty high performance airplanes, so our expectations were high for their replacements. So, Roddy got the handoff from low, and in a moment the AV-8 checked on frequency, “Marine 545, out of Flight Level 190 for 230.”

Roddy did a quick traffic scan and noting a National B727 southwest bound at FL310, started the AV-8 up to the safe altitude of FL290 (we used two thousand feet between altitudes above FL290 up until the early 2000s). In just a moment or two, the AV-8 sort of nudged Roddy for higher by reporting out of FL270. The problem was, if an AV-8 climbed no better than a T-bird (T-33), he was going to have to wait until the 727 went by. If he could climb like an F4, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to guts him up, but Roddy just didn’t know. So he did the best thing, he asked.

“Marine 545, traffic twelve o’clock and 40 miles, 727 at FL310. Can you be level 33 in 15 miles?”


“Marine 545, climb and maintain FL330, report out of 29 and 31.” (remember this is all being heard over the speaker by the surrounding slackers)

“Marine 545 out of 29…” and without unkeying his mic, “30, 31, 32, aaannddd, level 330.” Well ahead of the tri-jet, it’s worth noting.

Of course everyone laughed at what they would claim as ignorance on Roddy’s part, but trust me, some of them learned a lesson that day, too.

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Last updated: 18 April 2009