I have to put up a short post about the event I attended tonight at Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Oberlin, Ohio. Reason being it's probably the best little seminar I've attended in my two-ish years of attending such things. Not only was it extremely well organized but I also gained some amazing insight into the life behind the radar scope. Plus, I met up with blogging pilto friend Dave who was also there for the tour.
In today's security climate you don't often have the opportunity to go inside an ATC facility so I was quite fortunate to be able to do so. Ever since September 11th, visitor access to ATC locations has been severely limited at best. However, many ARTCCs throughout the country are beginning to revive programs aimed at teaching pilots about the Center environment - collectively, they're known as Operation Raincheck.
We started out with an hour-long presentation about the history of ATC and the specific breakdown of Cleveland's airspace. Then we split into three groups (four people each, with a controller escort) and toured the different areas inside the building. My group first went to the simulator room, then to the Traffic Management area, spoke with the meterologist, and finished up in the actual radar room listening in and watching controllers work live traffic.
Speaking with the Traffic Management folks really cleared up the whole reasoning behind how they coordinate with other ARTCCs to sequence traffic into the arrivals to major airports. We were able to view all the traffic across the country on monitors and see breakdowns of how they were being set up to flow perfectly into the arrival sequences. Even though this is an area I really don't deal with as a simple VFR pilot, it was really interesting to me.
Perhaps my favorite moment was seeing how the large display in Area 8 (the Southeast corner of Cleveland's airspace) was set up to color-code air traffic into major airports on the East coast. You may be as amused as we all were to learn they went by the colors of the local NFL teams - Philly was green, Dulles and Reagan were maroon and yellow, Baltimore was purple, etc. Good to see they find ways to keep things light in an environment that can be quite stressful. It goes without saying that this was an awesome experience and gave me a whole new perspective of the voices on the other side of the microphone!
Check the event listings on FAASafety.gov to see if your local ARTCC is scheduling any Operation Raincheck events. They tend to fill up quickly (at Cleveland they only have 15 slots on any given date) so be sure to check often if you're interested.