Stick Time

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Stick time. When things were slow some radar controllers would occasionally offer their A-Side an opportunity to plug in with their headset and talk to airplanes. Later, I found it odd that so many A-Sides never availed themselves of that experience. I jumped at every chance. In fact, elsewhere when I discuss my training and advancement, the rapid progress I document was as much a result of my aggressive hunt for stick time and the attendant experience that accrued from it as it was any native ATC ability.

I always loved talking to airplanes—right up to and including my last day. I can still remember the very first time I got some stick time. I can remember the sector (TLH High), I can remember who the controller was (although his name escapes me Flash: had dinner with an old friend from ZJX, and although he couldn't come up with a name based on my sparse description, he did mention Ben Spinks in a peripheral conversation—I immediately recognized that's who it was. I hope he reads this), and I can remember what I said the first time I keyed the mike.

There was a FANG Deuce (Florida Air National Guard F102) on a flight from somewhere out west eastbound on J2 to JAX at FL 290 (29,000 feet) entering our sector from the west. He checked on the frequency, “Jacksonville Center, FANG Three Five, Flight Level Two Nine Zero.”

I was partially prepared. I keyed the mike and said, “FANG Three Five, Jacksonville…” then turned my head toward the end of the control room (as I had seen dozens of controllers do hundreds of times before) and reading the altimeter settings projected on that wall for all the fixes in the area, dutifully transmitted, “Tallahassee altimeter, three zero, zero two.”

The Deuce pilot, bless his heart, dutifully responded, “FANG Three Five, roger.”

Ben, demonstrating a remarkably high degree of forebearance, casually pointed out, “you probably didn’t need to give him the altimeter.” Duh! As soon as he said that I remembered that all aircraft above 18,000 feet set their altimeters to 29.92 regardless of the actual local altimeter setting. He didn’t need a local altimeter until he started his descent for JAX some hundred miles farther.

I got better.

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Last updated: 20 December 2009