This rule is a perfect illustration of TWO reasons why air traffic control is such a challenging profession. First, controllers have to take hundreds
of highly specific, rigidly written rules, and apply them to what might be one of the most fluid, highly dynamic systems ever created by mankind.
Second, controllers have to figure out what the f**k the stupid rule says in the first place!
What it all boils down to for a controller is that a second aircraft can start its takeoff roll the moment the first one leaves the pavement, provided
that their initial departure headings will diverge by at least 15 degrees.
So that leads way, way, way back in time to when I was working at Bradley Airport, in Windsor Locks, CT. For years (possibly decades), the
airport never allowed departures to climb straight out off one particular runway. Every departing aircraft was issued at least a 15 degree turn to
the right in order in order to prevent them from flying over one of the more affluent towns in the area: Suffield, CT. It was a noise abatement
courtesy that the control tower had worked out to keep the residents of Suffield content.
The day came, however, when we desperately needed that runway heading back in order to give us that 15 degree divergence I was just talking
about. We couldn't turn 30 degrees to the right, and 45 degrees to the right, because there were inbound corridors over there. Unless we
'recouped' our runway heading, we were stuck with a single heading off that one runway, and it meant that we needed more room between
departures. (In the interest of clarity, the first departure does not stay on that 15 degree heading. Once the pilots contact the radar controller,
they will be directed to turn further to the right, the 15 degree heading becomes available for the aircraft on departure roll, and the tower can get
ready to launch a third aircraft. And so on.)
At the time, I was just starting a stint in the office. I was going to be doing training, some quality assurance work, and I would be coordinating
changes to our procedures. The guy I was replacing pulled out a thick folder, set it down on the desk, and showed me a change to our
procedures that would allow us to start using that heading straight off the end of the runway, taking our departures right over Suffield. My
predecessor had done all the work: procedures, airspace maps, studies of the projected ground tracks, Letters of Agreement, Letters to Airmen
(letting the pilots know about the change) .... the works.
And it was all post-dated for November 1st.
This was August.
"Why don't we do it now, so we have the extra headings for summer traffic?" I asked.
Here's where we get that one degree of separation, folks.
He said, "Because by November 1st, everyone in Suffield will have their windows closed for the winter. By spring, they will have gotten used to
the noise, and they won't even notice that we've changed flight paths."
In other words ... TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
Going back to my first assumption -- that the Preventive Services Task Force genuinely felt that this change in mammogram screenings was
either a health benefit or will cut costs -- what nitwit in that group decided to commit the supreme stupidity of announcing it in the middle of one of
the largest health care ruckuses this country has ever seen?
Good heavens. Most of us figure out this concept by the time we are six or seven years old. You don't ask your parents for a puppy when
they're in the middle of an argument that has escalated to a shouting match. (Most of us were probably hiding in our closets, which tends to
makes the puppy issue secondary anyway.) Apparently the turkeys on this task force are either in the worst case of arrested development ever
observed since homos became sapiens; or they were never kids.
Either that, or their goal IS to put a spike in the health care legislation. But that would be an entirely different issue, and the topic for a different
entry to my blog. Some other time, maybe.
Two things make this event exceptionally unusual. First, Northwest Airlines does not have service in or out of Burlington Airport. Second,
Burlington is not really set up to accept heavy jets. The taxiways are narrow, the ramp spaces too small, the airport does not have the correct
equipment to service the aircraft quickly or easily, and the runway is not long enough, which makes landing and departing a bit of a challenge for
the flight crews. (It's not unsafe. It just means that their control and power settings have to be set up to get airborne quickly, and they may not
be able to put a full load of passengers on the aircraft).
All of which is to say that the sight of a B747 descending toward the airport is not only magnificent but also extremely rare. I went on my way
with a huge grin on my face. My day was made.
Then I started thinking about the fact that the terminal does not have a jetway that can reach the door of a B747. That led to the memory of the
last time I saw an aircraft that size at the airport. The passengers got on and off using a set of portable stairs.
And then I realized why Northwest was there. It was a contract flight that was taking the first wave of 1500 Vermont National Guard soldiers to
I shifted from glee to sorrow in a heartbeat. I know that too many of those men and women will be coming back in a coffin. Even one loss is too
many, and Vermont has the highest loss rate per capita of any state in the country.
The sight of a B747 has never made me cry before. This one did.
So far, it has not set off any of the airport metal detectors that I have been through (watch, after putting that statement in print, the next time I try
to board a plane, the alarm will go off), the microwave does NOT affect it (although I am not supposed to put my cellphone in the left chest pocket
of my jacket), it doesn't rust, and the battery should last 5-8 years. (My wristwatch should do so well!)
I would prefer that I was barging through life using the heart that I was born with, but if I had to have a heart problem, this is the one to have! Life
is good, and aside from a slight hummock just below my left collar bone and the medical alert tag I wear whenever I leave the house, there is no
way to tell that my heart is running on batteries. I am eager to see what advances they have made in pacemaker technology by the time I have
this one replaced in 5-8 years. (When the batteries need to be changed, they swap out the entire pacemaker.) Battery technology is advancing
by leaps and bounds right now. By the time I need a new pacer, there's a good chance I could be looking at the last one I ever need. This one
does everything but make toast and eggs for me. Heaven only knows what the next one will do.
And with that thought, my coffee cup is empty, the last of my perennials need to be cut down for the winter, and the torture of listening to
pacemaker-blather is over.
7 December 2009 -- Mammograms to ATC: One Degree of Separation
I can make it from mammograms to ATC (and back again) in one step. Honest!!
I was reading an article this morning on the recent fracas over the revised guidelines concerning when women should begin getting routine
mammograms. For the purpose of this blog entry (and the point I will eventually attempt to make), allow me to assume that the goal of the U.S.
Preventive Services Task Force was NOT to put a spike in the health care legislation currently being considered in the Senate. Let's assume
that their recommendation was either an attempt to cut health care costs, or was an honest, objective assessment of the relative risks and
benefits of yearly mammograms starting at age 40.
Believe it or not, thinking about the mammogram debacle actually led me straight to air traffic. This is going to take a little more explanation,
There is a rule about successive departures from an airport that terminal controllers (the ones who stand up in the tower cab and say, "Clear for
takeoff") use hundreds or thousands of times every day. Just for giggles, let me show you what the actual rule, straight out of FAA Order
28 November 2009 -- Wind 32027G40
Translation: The wind is coming out of the northwest this morning, screaming right down the runway at the airport at a speed between 25 and 40
knots (roughly between 29 and 46 mph).
Ever since I put new windows and new siding in and on the house, I have noticed that I hear a lot less weather noise, especially at night. The
house is tighter, better insulated, and it is cheaper to heat, but I miss the sound of the rain against the side of the house, water trickling (or
gushing) in the downspouts, and the clatter of the leafless branches of the trees in autumn and winter.
Not last night. Wow. I felt like Winnie the Pooh hiding in bed on a blustery day! It was howling out there all night. Still is.
I'm delighted though, for several reasons. First, I love gray, wet, wild weather. I bundled up and drank my first cup of coffee out on the porch,
watching the world go by ... sideways. It is screaming out there.
Secondly, all of the storm windows on my porch are still intact. Around 3:00 in the morning, I woke up to the hammering of a particularly fierce
wind gust battering against the side of the house, knew that the wind was coming out of the northwest (because the rain was hitting the bedroom
windows), and wondered if I would find any windows left in place on the porch in the morning. For those of you who missed those incredibly
boring entries, I fabricated new, supposedly better quality storm windows for my porch this past spring, and when I took them down for the
summer, they fell apart. I spent several weeks in August and September rebuilding them. So far, they're holding together, which is making me
And lastly, I'm delighted that I don't have to go to work in this kind of weather ... ever. That was the second thing on my mind when the cats
rousted me out of bed at 5:30am. (The first was #@&%#@*!!#&@%!!! CATS!!!) I sat up, looked out the window at the way the trees were bent
over, and my stomach clenched with an 18-month old reaction to the sight. These kinds of days were challenging in a less pleasant manner than
the way busy traffic challenged me.
The arrivals will be coming in over the mountains located southeast of the airport today. When the wind hits the ridgeline, it will turn from
northwest to the west, accelerate (because of the terrain), and once the airmass breaks free of the peaks, it will snap back to a more
northwesterly direction, throw in a massive downdraft just to make things interesting, and slow down. And the controllers will be attempting to
vector and sequence aircraft through that invisible obstacle course. As with most things that ATC does, it is not dangerous. It just cranks up the
difficulty factor a bit.
I love that I know things like that. I'm even happier that I do not have to do it anymore. My stomach still cramps just thinking about it. I don't mind
busy traffic or student pilots, or even dealing with rainy weather. The things I always disliked most was attempting to cope with the elements of
the job that no one could see or predict. Can't see wind. Can't predict icing with any significant accuracy.
Not a day goes by that I don't wind up looking around me for at least one or two seconds and think, "God bless the FAA." I have a good pension,
a nice house that is in excellent condition and that is paid off; I have put an exciting, challenging career behind me; and I have health care. I
have time to do things with my friends, to travel a few times a year, and to spend most of the winter skiing. God bless the FAA ... and thank
heavens I don't have to go to work today.
I'm going to stay home, watch the world go by (sideways), write a little fanfic, and pretend that I am Winnie the Pooh staying indoors on a blustery
26 October 2009 -- My Mighty Hunters
The fiercesome fur balls have been outdoors pouncing on critters and bringing me their trophies.
This morning, Pip brought me the largest mole I have ever seen. While I'm not crazy about finding tiny corpses laid out on the WHITE porch rug
(whose stupid idea was that?) for my approval, there are enough rodents burrowing through my yard that I am delighted to have a carnivore
cutting down their numbers.
Aeryn -- my dressed-all-in-black, named-after-a-Peacekeeper death-distributing feline -- brought me a dead critter as well.
She got a treat, too. It's a step up from moths, after all. I'm sure she'll graduate to rodents some day.
23 October 2009 -- A One-Time Entry on Being Borg
In the absence of anything imaginative going on in my brain, and with a cup of coffee left to drink before I go do yardwork, let me 'effuse' for one
monologue about life with a pacemaker. This will be a one time event, unless something truly hysterical occurs at some point in the future (funny
hysterical, not hysteria hysterical).
On Monday, April 27th, at around 10:00pm, I took a short jaunt to the Emergency Room because I wasn't feeling entirely normal. (Normal being
a relative term where I am concerned.) I was convinced that what was going on was the result of a wonky thyroid -- a common enough issue with
women my age that it seemed like a reasonable self-diagnosis. Since this was going to be something simple and minor, I left the windows in the
house open despite a forecast for thunderstorms that night, I did not bother putting down food for the cats, and I walked out the door with my
wallet, my car keys, and a magazine. Please note, no cellphone or planner with phone numbers in it, which means no way to contact my
cellphone-only neighbors to ask them to take care of the cats or close the windows.
For the record, this is called 'reinforced denial'. Since I am leaving the house with none of the things I might need if the emergency room visit
turns into a clamity, therefore I will be home later and everything will be fine.
See how well it worked?
Short version of the story. Two sentences that will change your life. I thought the guy was going to say: "You're fine. Go see your regular
doctor and get some thyroid medication." What he said instead was: "First of all you're not going home tonight. Second, we are getting you a
bed in the cardiac ward."
Yup. That will wake you right up and get your heart banging away in your chest ... assuming it isn't doing that already.
What I have is called Second Degree Heart Block. It's a blockage of the electrical impulses, not anything having to do with circulation of blood.
The signal that tells the various chambers to contract is not reaching the ventricles (the large, lower chambers of the heart that do most of the
pumping). The upper chambers (the atria) are fine, but the ventricles were only contracting every other beat, which brought my heart rate down
to 50 on the night I arrived at the emergency room, and down to 38 the morning they put in the pacemaker. The pump -- the "muscle" -- is fine.
It's the electrical system that needed an upgrade.
Which leads to 'Sparky'!!
That is also the big news in my life. Several months ago (end of April) I got a pacemaker. The good news is that current pacemaker technology
is nothing short of miraculous, it is getting better all the time, and aside from having to carry an ID card with me when I travel in case I set off a
metal detector, there is little change to my life ... except for the better.
I hope to be stopping in here more frequently than I have over the past seven months, and hopefully I'll get the Youses Muses Gang interested in
providing some of my more manic tales of life in a control tower.
But for now ... Hello, good to see you, and good night!
23 March 2009 -- Can I Have Cheese With My Whine?
The last few winters, in an effort to prevent my utility bills from doing a first-class imitation of the national debt, I have kept the house relatively
cool. If someone wanted to call it downright arctic, I wouldn't want to have to argue the point. I don't mind. Most of the time I just bundle up,
keep moving a little bit every hour to generate some body heat, and if I really want to warm up, I head off to Starbucks for a coffee and to leech
off someone else's hot air for a while.
But around this time every year, I find myself wandering around the house saying the same thing over and over again. "I am just so damned
tired of being cold!"
Isn't it supposed to be spring yet? It's 26 frelling degrees out -- a high for today -- and it went down to 14°F last night! Isn't there supposed to
be a law against this?
Might be time for a field trip to Starbucks.
Nothing much about my two furry clowns has changed over the winter, except that Pip has grown. She is 11 months old now, which means that I
don't expect her to get a great deal bigger. She is looking more cattish than kittenish these days, and if she stopped tearing around the house
at Hetch 82, I think she would start to fill out.
When Aeryn turned 1-year-old, she began packing on weight unlike anything I ever could have imagined. It was a little horrifying to see my svelt
little black fiend start to pudge out in a matter of one or two weeks. I got her weight down and stablized though, and she's back to looking her
athletic, quasi-lethal self. (She's only lethal to bugs, crunchy snacks, and humans who want to sleep past 6:30am.)
The third picture from the left shows how close they are in size -- a matched set. The good news is that they are pretty evenly matched for their
nightly wrestling mayhem.
The picture on the far right caught Pip "prairie dogging". It doesn't show the extent of this behavior, however. I caught her on the way down.
When she wants a better view of something, she will stand almost all the way up on her hind legs -- more meerkat than prairie dog. I've never
owned a cat that does this. It's hysterical to watch.
That's it for cats for today. You survived.
22 March 2009 -- I'm baaaa-aaaaack!
Ooops. I took another Blog-Vacation.
It's snowing today, the ground is still frozen solid, my vegetable garden is only a dream, and I'm starting to question my sanity for moving this far
north. (Ask me about this again in June, and I will no doubt tell you it was the best decision I ever made.)
In the next day or two, I will be inflicting more kitty cuteness on anyone who happens to stop by the Mushroom Patch. You have been warned.
My Great Quest consuming my life at this point is to find a pleasant restaurant in the local area that I like enough to become a "regular". It needs
a good selection of beers, a little ambience, and I'd like serving sizes that are not so large that they would feed a family in Darfur for three years.
That rules out my favorite Irish pub, even though they know how to create the little shamrock in the foam on top of a Guinness. *sniffle*
That leaves nothin' but national chains, like Chili's, the Longhorn, and places like that. That's what happens when you buy a house in the middle
of suburban sprawl.
Everyone's life should be so tough.
|Mushroom Patch -- Page 11
January 20, 2009 thru December 7, 2009
20 January 2009 -- Kitty Cuteness
A number of years back, I bought a fleece lined 'tunnel' for my cat-at-that-time, Dax. She loved to play inside paper bags, so I figured
(mistakenly) that she would enjoy playing inside a big nylon tube. Not so. I learned that cats look upon 'floors' that move about with full feline
distain. Dax tried it once, did not like that it rolled -- thus turning the floor into the ceiling and vice versa -- and spurned it. The tunnel sat around
in the livingroom doing nothing more than taking up floor space until the next time I vacuumed. I picked it up to get it out of the way, put it in an
arm chair where it would not roll around, and five minutes later I was treated to yet another cattish revelation.
I had misidentified this item. It wasn't a tunnel. It was, and still is, a CAVE!!!
Everything I have said so far holds true for my current two-cat pride. They frown on tunnels, love caves.
22 March 2009 -- Kitty Cuteness 2
Doomsday has arrived sooner than expected!! MWAAAHAHAHAHAA!!
Instead of waiting until tomorrow (which will never get here anyway), I have decided to inflict another installment of Kitty Cuteness on everyone
Here they are once again, the inseparable pair -- Aeryn and Pip.
25 March 2009 -- Who Do I Believe?
My thermometer-in-the-sun says it's 78°F outside this morning, and yet there is a thick layer of frost on the windshield of my car. Gee, which one
should I believe?
The selectboard in my town has voted to spend $935,000 to put a roundabout at an intersection 1/10 mile from my house where there is
currently a 4-way stop. The selectboard says it will save gas, and cut down on accidents. We have one other roundabout in town. I came the
closest to getting killed there than anywhere else in my entire life when a trash truck blasted through without slowing down or yielding correctly. I
have seen people drive through the roundabout the wrong way (or maybe they were visitors from the UK who were going through it the correct
way as far as they were concerned). The American Traffic Circle: benefit to everyone who uses it, or a good place to get mashed by a trash
truck? Gee, which one should I believe?
22 October 2009 -- Starting In The Middle
Wow! My longest Blog-vacation yet!! SEVEN MONTHS!!!
Some interesting things have happened in my life since I last posted on March 25th. Rather than attempt to catch up and cover it all, I'll simply
start in the middle.
My parents sent me this cartoon. This is my family in a nutshell ... right down to the dog that comes at the sound of the can opener.
This little sucker is 1.89" wide, and 0.30" thick, and it is astounding how much 'brain' they have managed
to pack into this little dude. What it does is "listen" to the electrical impulses reaching my atrium, waits
very briefly to determine if the ventricles will contract on their own, and if they don't, it sends out an
impulse to trigger the ventricles. What's mind-boggling is that it is constantly monitoring things like how
frequently my heart uses it, how often it beats on its own, and it can also store up to 14 months of data
on how my heart is behaving. Each time I go in for a tune-up, the technicians download that record and
check for unusual events. (So far, there's been nothing but normal heart beats.) The technicians can
set a high and low limit on the BPM (Beats Per Minute), and if the current maximum (150 BPM) isn't
enough for sports and recreation, they can get new software from the manufacturer and reprogram it.
(Let's all pray that the new software isn't based on Vista.)
27 October 2009 -- From Glee To Sorrow
I was out driving around town doing some errands this morning. I used a
store that I do not usually visit, which meant that I eventually wound up
sitting at a traffic light in a spot and facing in a direction that I almost
never face even though it is only 3 miles from my house. And I got there
just in time to watch one of these behemoths (a Northwest Airlines B747)
go by on final approach to the airport. From where I was sitting, it looked
like the mains were about 6 feet above the cars in the grocery store
I LOVE BIG TIN!!
I still get a thrill out of watching that much metal descend gracefully out of
the sky. The only thing better is watching them depart. There is a
moment during takeoff roll where your brain cannot quite believe that
over 300,000 pounds of metal is going to break free of the pavement and
fly, the mains seem to cling to the earth for one additional moment, and
then it lumbers into the air. I doubt that sight will ever grow old as far as I
am concerned. So I was pretty excited that I was sitting at that red light
just in time to see this one go by.
Separate aircraft departing from the same airport/heliport or adjacent airports/heliports in accordance with the following minima
provided radar identification with the aircraft will be established within 1 mile of the takeoff runway end/helipad and courses will
diverge by 15 degrees or more.
a. Between aircraft departing the same runway/helipad or parallel runways/helicopter takeoff courses separated by less than
2,500 feet- 1 mile if courses diverge immediately after departure.