LITHxxx: 4/11/07

A “MONUMENT” TO ATC EXCELLENCE – Okay, maybe I’m going overboard a little (just a little), but we had a friendly 172 pilot named Tim heading towards Monument Valley Airport recently who needed a little extra help. Natalie, one of the newer “hole”meisters was working Tim towards the airport, but it was getting to be dusk and Tim was having a hard time finding it, it’s not easy to find in broad daylight. I’ve read about the lodge down there, and it’s pretty rare to actually get someone to go in there, they usually are VFR way before they get to that point. Natalie asked me to jump in and help him find the airport once he passed it up and was heading toward Kayenta, so I did.
I got him to find the road that runs up the valley itself and he did eventually find the airport and land safely. We spoke on the phone once he landed, he let me know about the fine, ahem, employees down there. Coincidentally, I was working the “hole” when Tim came out to go back home, we got to say hi. A couple of weeks later we received his kind letter giving Natalie and I a nice pat on the back. These are always appreciated, yet rarely given, as 90% of these kinds of situations go unnoticed or unreported.
Tim has threatened to visit us again! Go a little further northeast and visit the facility when you’re out this way.

ADDITIONS TO THE HOLE – As I wrote earlier, the “hole” was absorbed into a larger low altitude area. Along with the airspace comes some new characters we have to deal with. Of course I’m talking about not just different users/pilots, but the dreaded (okay, not so dreaded really) tower controllers! I had the pleasure of visiting some of these fine facilities last week, unreimbursed of course. I also got to visit a non-controlled airport, although some would argue they all were in some way or another. Anyway, on with the report:
Eagle County Airport (EGE)– My first stop was this gem of the rockies, yeah I know, laying it on thick. At first I felt as I was Maxwell Smart getting into Control’s headquarters with the speaker and buzzer at the gate, then the door, then the elevator, I think MW (EGE’s best female controller) was having fun with me. This was a pretty nice, and fairly new I hear, facility, very impressive. Met 3/4’s of the staff and they were as friendly in person as they are to work with (don’t worry guys, that’s a compliment). I got some good pictures, got windblown on the catwalk, saw some cool military helicopters, and shot the breeze for a couple of hours. They had me fill out their visitor log, under “reason”, I put “your education”, hehehe. Then it was down the road to:
Rifle Garfield County Airport (RIL) – I had to go here to personally thank them for the awesome drinking mugs they gave to us. I got to talk to the person responsible for that on the phone (Airport Manager), then chatted with the FBO on the airport. We talked ATC, got some headsup on future airport plans, and got a sweet panorama shot of the field from end to end. I then took the family around Rifle and saw Rifle Falls and Caves State Park, highly recommend it. The next day it was on to:
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport/Sardy Field (ASE) – What the heck is a “sardy”? I dunno, but I checked this airport out a couple of days before it shut down for runway resurfacing. Once again, friendly folks, glad to see me and vice versa. Per FAA rules(?), it’s not easy getting into the facility, but eventually got through the gate. Got to meet the chief and a few controllers before I was summoned to save the wife from Aspen and our kids($$$). Up in the tower cab they have the local/ground controllers, with the radar approach controller right behind them, never seen that setup before. It was cool and different to see the radar guy/gal work the airplane in, be able to look up and actually see the airplane, then watch him come around and land. Remember, lifetime Center guy here, easily amused. Very interesting operation, with the head-on arrivals and departures due to the rising terrain in all directions.
As a side note, we also visited the Woody Creek Tavern, off the beaten path, a little screwy, but good atmosphere and great food. Thanks to ZDV’s XJ for that suggestion.
All in all a great trip, look forward to visiting again. Of course it goes without saying their feeling is mutual!?

CHANGING OF ASPENS (RUNWAY) – For the next couple of months, Aspen Airport will be closed for runway resurfacing. Oddly, the controllers remain, perhaps doing some air quality control as opposed to air traffic control. Well, they still have their approach control airspace to babysit. Once nice side effect is that we get to have the shelf above Eagle and can climb unrestricted. I could almost get used to that! Next we need to work on a shelf to run Rifle ILS approaches. Better yet, have Aspen run both of those airports! Yeah, getting ahead of myself again. The poker and monopoly games must be grueling down there during this closure. They could always come visit us!
TRAINING IN PROGRESS, PLEASE REMAIN QUIET – As in, don’t complain about “the hole” (the original, that is) for the next couple of months as I’m training a new guy down there. Of course, this takes away my quality time from our friends at Eagle, but they’ll get over it. I already warned Farmington and invited them to pull the usual practical jokes on the new guy.

LITHxxx: 1/13/07-1/18/07

NEW FEATURE ALERT – Check out all the hyperlinks below. It’s easier to talk about something if I can show you. So starting with these posts there are links to airport and approach info, courtesy of Airnav.Com, a great aviation site.
MUG SHOT – Any of our friends down in Rifle reading? I was the lucky recipient of one of their “Request Rifle” mugs, pretty nice one, too. I thought everyone was getting them, but I guess if someone is working the Rifle approach sector (11-134.5) and they run a certain amount of aircraft diverting from Eagle and Aspen, they get this mug, courtesy of Rifle Airport. Yesterday, both Eagle and Aspen were in bad shape weatherwise and I ran several from there into Rifle. The winds were shifting and we’d go back and forth between RWY26 and RWY8, meaning we’d have to change up the approach sequence from the ILS Rwy 26 to the GPS Rwy 8 approach. At one point I had 5 aircraft holding at 2 different initial approach fixes for the GPS-8 approach. I’d never used that approach up to this point. Also, I used a couple of departures that I’d never used, the oddly named EDUKY1 and equally strangely named UYRIG1, the latter I was told to never, ever use, due to its close proximity to Aspen Approach Controls airspace. But did I listen? Of course not, and since Aspen/Eagle were basically closed, I could run ’em in that way.

NO FLAPS, NO DICE – While holding and vectoring for Hayden/Yampa Valley Airport today, got an unexpected call from #1 in the sequence. An Astrajet told me he couldn’t land there or any runway that either had good braking action, or a fairly long runway as his flaps would not extend. He picked Centennial Airport in Denver, but needed to know the runway conditions, they were fair and snow packed. My supervisor and I thought maybe Denver Intl might be the way to go, with its 16,000′ runway and all. He went with that the last we heard, must’ve made it alright.

FREQ OUT – Hey, I wish there was a way for you 9 loyal readers to listen to what we do as we do it. Well, there sort of is a way, but it won’t be us here in “The Hole”. There is a website called LiveATC.Net that volunteers around the world put up live feeds from their own scanners. I’ve checked it out late at night, when unfortunately it’s pretty dead, but if you tune in places in Europe or Asia, it ain’t dead there. I listened to some guy go down the tubes in Amsterdam once, and since “ATC speak” is in English worldwide, no problemo. Also, here’s a handy little map of Denver Center frequencies. Mainly look at the “low discreet” freqs from GCN to SBS. Now, if our friends at Farmington Tower would pony up a scanner and an internet connection, you’d here a good chunk of “The Hole’s” action online.

GOATHEAD NO MORE – One of our favorite guys down in Farmington, TA, is leaving for greener pastures. From Farmington brown to Seattle green, what a shock to the system, 2% relative humidity to, what, 100%? He’s the one I’d get chewed out by management for answering tower calls with “goathead”. Yes, they actually typed that up on a critique. Great, so now one less regular down there and I’m surrounded now by more (time for an acronym)…
FNG – You wont see this one in the Pilot/Controller glossary. It stands for F(riendly?) New
Guy, or whatever you want that F to be. Then again, guess I’m sort of a FNG myself in this new area, nahh. Good luck and happy trails TA, a future FNG himself.  1/18/07

 

Life In The Hole (LITH) is based on real-life Air Traffic Control (ATC) stories from pilot and controller Chris Rodriguez (unless otherwise noted) of Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).  The comments and opinions are only of the authors and do not reflect the opinions or positions of any other company or organization.

LITHxxx: 1/11/07

A WHOLE NEW HOLE – It’s almost hard now to call “the hole” “the hole” anymore. The transition to the new area is done, and I went into this new all low altitude area. They can take me out of the hole, but they can’t take the hole away from me, or something like that. Here’s the deal: What was referred to as “The Hole” was a low altitude position between, roughly, Grand Canyon and Alamosa. It was basically a bastard child alone in it’s own little area, nice, dark, and quiet – and most importantly free of management intrusion, to some extent. Now it has been absorbed into this all low altitude area (the ground up to FL260). This area includes the following airports: Grand Junction, Telluride, Montrose, Gunnison, Rifle, Eagle, Aspen,
Kremmling, Hayden, Steamboat Springs, and Craig. It feeds arrivals from the northwest and southwest into Denver, and departures to the west out of Denver. The airspace that was added to “the hole” has been referred to the “central area”, the “mountain area”, and Area 1. It’s now the only all low altitude area at Denver Center. My old area is now the only all high altitude (FL260 and above) area at Denver Center, boring. So, in closing, can this new area really be called “The Hole” anymore? Well, nobody will probably call it that anymore, but the legend lives on (as long as I say it does) as will the stories – and believe me, just from what I’ve seen in the last couple of months getting my feet wet, the fun never stops. So on we go…
HONORABLE MENTIONS – Supposedly, some of my new coworkers have had pilots ask about this website on frequency. One word of advice to you pilots who enjoy this site: try to avoid the “Hall of Shame”, nuff said.
HALL OF SHAME #12 – Had a new one happen (on a checkride no less) on frequency. Fairly busy at probably the most complex sector in the area, maybe the Center. This is Sector 6, freq 128.65, and it handles Denver west departures, Aspen arrivals from the east, and most importantly Eagle airport. It’s getting backed up at Eagle, which isn’t uncommon, speeds and vectors for all. One guy, and I won’t say the company, but it starts with an O and ends with ptions, gets the same speed and vector as everyone else and responds with “are you sure”? Bad move, Ace.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS – As you’ve no doubt read in these blogs, I prefer low altitude and the pilots it brings along with it. The new addition to The Hole has less VFR flight following than what I’d gotten used to, mainly due to much higher terrain and so-so radar and radio coverage due to that very terrain. So the majority of the traffic I’ve seen so far has been fractional/private jets and airliners, ranging from turboprops to 757’s. Been a little disappointed in the attention factor – theirs, not mine. Much of that can be chalked up to start of the season, them not used to it (mountains, weather, snow, ice, turbulence, etc), and it’s bound to improve. Tough to have to repeat things, like very long drawn out approach clearances, when you barely have time to do it the first time. To combat this, I’ve tried as much as possible to ask exactly what the pilot wants, so as not to surprise him/her with an unexpected clearance, but even that only works half the time! A work in progress.
WHAT’S IN A NAME #7 – Jefferson County Airport, aka Jeffco (BJC) is now known as Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (still BJC) or some nonsense. There’s no short way to say that, RockMet? I know, I’ll use – Jeffco. Way back before I lived in Colorado I saw an old chart for this airport and the “B” in BJC stood for Broomfield. Well, Broomfield made their own county from parts of Jefferson, Boulder, and I believe part of Weld counties. Apparently, according to BJC’s website, this airport is entirely within Jefferson County still – SO WHY THE NAME CHANGE???!!! Seriously lame.

 

 

LITHxxx: Hole closing rumors #267

HOLE CLOSING RUMORS #267 So here it is, the skinny on where “The Hole” is going, and with it your humble correspondent. It, and I, is/are being reassigned to another area, aka “specialty”. This area is known as Area 1, or the Central Area, soon to be known as the “low altitude only” area. I finally got my wish and am now training on the sectors I don’t already have in that new area. So fear not pilot friends, they can take “The Hole” away from me, but they can’t take me away from “The Hole”! Hmm, that just doesn’t sound right, but there you have it. Impact on operations: I think overall users will be happy with this new area. Formerly, I’d estimate 90% of the controllers who got stuck in “The Hole” didn’t much care for it, and it showed. Now the people working it work nothing but low altitude. I won’t say it’s 90%-10% because I don’t know them all or worked with them all, but even if it’s half, that’s an improvement. Best of all, of course, you get to keep me, and this ever popular, up to 8 readers and counting, blog.
TRAINEES TRAINING TRAINEES Yes, it has begun. The inmates are running the asylum. Alright, I may be exaggerating a tad, but these new “Holee’s” are now training people on “The Hole”. So if you see/hear anything weird (other than myself training on a new sector), and a different voice chimes in and it doesn’t get any clearer – now you know why. Seriously, I think it’s great, and have been pleased with my new co-workers interest in learning this little slice of airspace. And of course teaching it only makes you learn it better. I also think anyone I trained there that is now training someone else should have a small percentage of their training pay added to my bank account. Call it tribute, or something.
PAYBACK: DENVER APPROACH STYLE Well well well, now the foot’s on the other leg!(?) All these years I’ve been at the mercy of my fine, yet overpaid, friends at Denver Approach and their hesitancy to take handoffs. One of the sectors in the new area is basically a 1-way sector IN to Denver, and if Approach don’t feel like taking an airplane, they don’t. They are the gatekeeper there, and they don’t always give you fair warning when they’ll shut that tall gate of theirs. One of my new sectors is mostly a 1-way sector OUT of Denver and guess who’s handing me all of those airplanes? Whereas what I feed them is a fine-tuned string of pearls, their feed is, well, like a kiss from a sawed off shotgun. Unfortunately for them, this sector is also the approach sector for Eagle, CO, which I’m told can get pretty crazy. So………we’ll just leave it at that.
NEVERENDING ACRONYM DEPT (NAD) Got another one for you, ERIDS. No it’s not “External Routing Intrusion Detection System”, or “emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases”. It stands for “En Route Information Display System” and it’s pretty cool. Oddly enough it becomes “live” on my birthday, so I claim it as mine. Wanna see what it is? Go to http://www.faa.gov/aua/atdet/docs/ERIDS_Exec_Brief_032904.pdf#search= or just Google ERIDS, I guess. It’s a touchscreen that allows a controller to bring up and view all kinds of info, like approach charts, sectionals, Letters of Agreements (LOA’s), AIM, SOP’s, PDARs, SID’s, STAR’s, woah, acronym overload.

Slip sliding away

SLIP SLIDING AWAY Ya, I know I’ve been slipping in my entries here. And soon “The Hole” will slide right out of my area. The latest rumor is October ’05! Once that happens I’ll no longer work hardly any GA airplanes as I’ll only work FL270 and above. Then again I could always transfer to the new area that works only FL260 to the ground, hmm. Enticing. “The Hole” has gotten pretty crowded anyway. We now on a regular basis have 3 sectors open besides 36 back there. And they are controllers from other areas, talk about feeling soiled.
YET ANOTHER ACRONYM, RVSM Probably one of the biggest changes ATC has seen in my 20 year career is “Reduced Vertical Seperation Minimum”, or RVSM. It allows us to run airplanes 1,000′ apart from FL290 to FL410 (prior we had to use 2,000′, a real drag). This didn’t affect “The Hole” much as we already had 1,000′ seperation anyway. It makes those higher altitude sectors more appealing, hence less time in The Hole for me lately.
*HEADLINES* *HEADLINES* *HEADLINES*
NEW HIRE CELEBRATES BIRTH OF REPLACEMENT

TSA GIVES ‘AIRPLANE ARRESTING DEVICE’ NEW MEANING

MILITARY PILOT DECLARES ‘BINGO’

FIRES IN THE HOLE The impact of the wildfires in and around The Hole are gradually lessening. The temporary tower at Durango has closed down. The Temporary Flight Restriction north of DRO has gotten smaller. The smoke that wreaked havoc has thinned out. The TFR west of Farmington will probably go away soon as a pilot overflying it yesterday saw nothing resembling smoke or fire.

LITH013

TAKE A DAY OFF AND… Went to the Rocky Mountain EAA Regional Fly-In Saturday, attended a forum on “Human Factors In The Cockpit” lead by Rogers V. Shaw, who I later spoke to about CAMI’s (no, not Council for Anglophone Magdalen Islanders, FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute) sleep studies on controllers. Also met Cam, owner of a beautiful 68’ Cardinal, and our 4th Life In The Hole reader. He and his son stopped by the hangar, talked shop, ate shaved ice. But back at The Hole, apparently a couple planes went down as documented at the FAA’s accident site. One near Halls Crossing, the other at Cortez, CO. Luckily no one died, but there were serious injuries with the Bonanza at Cortez, callsign sounded familiar. Neither aircraft were being worked by Denver Center, but from what I hear the controller was able to relay through aircraft in the air the status of the one near Halls Crossing. That was a C172, flipped over on an emergency landing, but everyone was alright.  7/1/02

NEVER CAN’T SAY GOODBYE Not sure if some of you pilots know this or not, but when you’re flying along VFR and have a radio problem, or fly/descend out of radio coverage, we just don’t chuck your strip/flightplan and forget about you. We have to follow up and find out if you landed, or if something went wrong. Had that happen to a VFR going into Pagosa Springs, luckily had an Empire pilot go over to Unicom and talk to the pilot as he was touching down.  7/3/02

SOMEBODY ELSE IS WATCHING ME A regular, and our potential 5th reader, Scott of the Stealth Navajo, added a new twist to his stealthy plane. A blinking reply light on the transponder while in a non-radar coverage area. Makes you wonder, who else is interrogating transponders out there? There is no other radar site from any facility within range, not by a long shot. If this site mysteriously disappears shortly, look out for bee’s that sting with alien venom and shape shifting controllers.  7/3/02

FARMINGTON NEWS Congrats to Phil, an instructor at Mesa for just passing his ATP checkride. Good Job Phil.

In November the name and identifier of the Farmington VOR will change. The new name will be Rattlesnake and the identifier will be RTL. The new name comes from the community of Rattlesnake, NM just west of Farmington. Fly Safe ! Scotty  7/6/02

LITH012: Wayward and confessing pilots, and fam flights

TURN AROUND MY WAYWARD SON Today had a disoriented student pilot on his first solo cross country. He was going from Albuquerque, NM to Gallup, NM and finally asked for help after getting way off course heading east towards the Continental Divide. Farmington Tower had me give him a code and I found him, I told them to switch him over to me but the pilot didn’t want to. I assured the tower I wouldn’t bite him and he reluctantly came over. Continue reading

LITH011: 4 hours on position, namecalling, and funky fixes

FORE SCORE & 4 HOURS ON POSITION Okay, it was only 237 minutes, but it sure felt like 240. The thing about this sector is when you get in a groove you want to stay, bladder and hunger be damned. This was one of those times. Not only was I getting begging eyes from relieving controllers (begging me to not give it to them), but it would’ve taken too long to explain everything that was going on. Continue reading

LITH010: Farewell to regulars and Hall of Shame

FAREWELL TO SOME REGULARS Scotty brought it to my attention tonight that some regulars won’t be flying our friendly skies as much anymore. We work this Lifeguard KingAir on a regular basis in and out of Farmington, NM. Apparently they no longer have the contract and the plane and crew will be taken out of the area. They’ll be missed as they were always great to work with. This airplane was one of the few that I worked that showed up on the FAA’s Accident/Incident website, after which it again flew with us regularly. The incident was on a midshift when the plane hit a coyote on the runway in Farmington. The flight had to be cancelled and there was some minor damage to the plane, major to the coyote. That pilot got a lot of flack, and I always called him the “Coyote Killer” jokingly. Scotty knows them even better, hope to hear from you guys again in your next job. Say hi to Scotty or FO. Continue reading