Basic ATC Structure

Basic ATC structure is an important thing to understand about our airway system and how to fly within it. While, it’s something that many new and VFR pilots only probably don’t know or possibly care about, it’s valuable information. I learned to fly in NYC, while I didn’t have to file IFR flight plan, I talked to ATC on a daily basis when flying either because of the tower or flight following. Basic ATC structure came up as a question on my dispatcher exam, and I deal with ATC reroutes and delays every day now.

Here is a quick synopsis of how a flight will talk to ATC from beginning to end:

Clearance Delivery

These controllers have your filed IFR flight plan and either clear as filed or tell you the way they want you to go. This isn’t to frustrate you, it’s possibly due to flow control or weather that has popped up (hopefully, you’re aware of it though!) Airlines get their PDC (pre-departure clearance) through their ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) printer to cut down on radio communication and possible error.


Next, you’ve gotten your ATIS (I didn’t include it since you’re just listening to a recording, not talking to a person) and are ready to taxi. You let these controllers know which ATIS you have and ready to taxi. They’ll give you instructions on where to go and if to hold short of any runways or taxiways. I always write it down, even if its simple just in case I forget with something else going on.


Ground will turn you over to Tower who will instruct you on when it is clear to takeoff. They will shortly hand you over to approach control after takeoff.


These are the controllers that work at TRACONs (Terminal Radar Approach Control) in terminal areas. They help vector traffic to and away from airports. Depending on your route of flight, if its short you may only talk to these controllers. If not, they’ll hand you over to the next set.


If you’re doing a long flight you’ll talk to Center. There are 22 centers in the US and you can see their outlines in the map I posted. I have to refer to this map a lot still to get to know their boundaries since    there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.


Back to approach and you’re descending into your destination.


Approach will hand you back to tower to clear you to land. When calling tower, they’ll want to make sure you have the current ATIS and your location.


Depending on how busy the airport, Tower will hand you over to ground to taxi back to your gate or FBO.


This isn’t ATC but most likely you’ll be calling an FBO or an airline their ground operations to fill up on fuel and for other services once parked.

Airline Pilot for a Day

One of the many perks of my job, is I’m required to fly 5 hours every year in the cockpit of the airplanes I dispatch. The other day I had to fulfill this requirement and it was an experience! I’ve flown the simulator of the A320 and rode up front once already. My company allows us to pick whichever flights we want to do to meet this requirement and I chose to do two round trips, one to San Diego and one to Las Vegas.

The first flight was at 10am, so not too early. I parked at work at took the shuttle over to the airport. Signed in with the gate agent and introduced myself since I had to print off paperwork and be up in his business. After almost everyone else was boarded is when I headed down.

IMG_0130The first crew were great guys! Of course, aviation is a small world and I knew people the captain knew from other companies and bonded over that. Flights are much more boring then you think. Sure, taxi, take off, and landing. But cruise there’s not much to do except change radio frequencies every so often. That’s the time we catch up on company rumors and I bugged them with questions.

San Diego is a rare airport since it’s one of the few commercial airports with only one runway. I picked it because of that. We did a visual approach into the airport and pass so close to the buildings in downtown San Diego. I wish I had time to stay and visit, that’s another day.

Quick turn, I got off the aircraft because I had to let the gate agents I’d be riding up front on the way back. Our gate agents are pretty good. Sometimes I find gate agents can be mean, but every single set was nice and we chatted.

Ride back was pretty similar. Another pilot rode up front as well, since there are two jumpseats. Apparently him and his FO were cursing my name since they were commuting and I kicked one off. Oh well! That’s why you always give yourself a few flights to commute (which they did).

12019800_3048143120003_1861663340308308100_nSFO wasn’t foggy so a visual approach. There was an A380 coming in. Definitely the easiest traffic to spot since it’s MASSIVE! We landed behind it, but far enough away not to experience wake turbulence and ended up taxiing next to it. I so want to fly on one soon!

Those flights were less than 3 hours, so I had to do another turn. I just sucked it up and did another round trip to LAS this time since the next flight was in less than an hour, but I’m such a homebody and wanted to go home. I went over to the gate to sign up. There was the gate agent from earlier! I told him apparently I hadn’t had enough yet.

A new crew, these were younger guys and nice. Not as big talkers as the first set. I saw the approach into LAS which is interesting with the mountains coming from the west. During the quick layover, I went into the terminal and played some slots since why not? I’m cheap and only put in 2 bucks, but came out with $5. On our taxi back to the runway, we saw the British Airways plane that caught fire there. The engine was removed and it didn’t look so damaged. The departure was interesting again because of the mountains, but it’s not like the aircraft struggles to get over them.

The real interesting part was the approach into SFO. The sun was beginning to set, and fog was rolling in which looked beautiful. SFO utilizes SOIA (Simultaneous Offset Instrument Approaches) which means when the weather is good enough planes land side by side with less than 1000ft between them. I had my headset on and heard the pilots were looking for our traffic which would be landing next to us. They saw him, but for some reason I couldn’t. Maybe it was the sun, but I kept looking. We were below 1000ft and I was looking at the runway and the first officer got my attention and pointed to the left. I looked over and saw a United airplane right next to us! It was so cool. After we landed, we talked about how the first time you see it that it’s just crazy. I’m not sure if I’d ever get over that!

It was a tiring day even just sitting. Jake told me it’s just like a regular day for a pilot. It’s surprisingly boring and tiring. But I had fun, and I love the perk of riding up front!


I learned to fly out of Republic Airport (KFRG) on Long Island. It’s a pretty busy general aviation airport with a control tower. Since getting into dispatch, I’m learning a lot more about major airports and how they function. Recently, our class got to visit the SFO tower and get to understand the traffic flow.

When I was learning to fly, I noticed we took off runway 1 a lot, but it wasn’t rare to takeoff from 19 or even 32 (14 was rare though). Major airports love to keep the same pattern for their runway usage.

KSFO has 4 runways, 2 sets of parallel runways.  The way SFO works is that airplanes land on the 28s and takeoff on the 1s, unless it’s a 747 or A380 then they’ll take off the 28s. Aircraft can request to takeoff the 28s if it helps better with their route, but it’s not always accepted.


Here are the problems with SFO that normally ends the airport in GDPs (Ground Delay Programs

  1. The airport is just too small!

They try to land as simultaneously as possible on the 28s to have the most traffic volume. When it’s a clear day, it’s possible. Aircraft have to see one another for the approach since the runways are so close together. 750 feet to be exact between centerlines.


750ft pose a problem during IMC though. That takes away landing simultaneous, and cuts down the volume the airport can take in half. A minimum of 1000ft is needed for them to land together in IMC. Technology isn’t there yet otherwise.

2. Winds can be an issue

They will take off the 1s as long as possible. Once the crosswind component exceeds 25kts, they switch to the 28s for take offs and landings. Then the volume of traffic that can land goes down and holding and GDPs happens.

3. Noise abatement

Landing on the 1s is near impossible due to noise batement in surrounding cities of the airport. If you don’t like the sound of an airport, don’t live near an airport. I personally enjoy the fact a shadow of an A380 can cross my living room!

4. You’re gonna have a bad time…


If they’re landing the 19s, you’re gonna have a bad time in the dispatch office. With Oakland and San Jose also using the Bay Area airspace, it becomes crowded very quickly! Almost as bad as when JFK is in ILS 13 configuration for New York airspace.


Full Motion Simulator

Thanks to my wonderful instructor at work, we got a chance to fly an Airbus 320 simulator. The airline’s training is reduced at the end of July so they could fit us in for 2 hours!

IMG_9473   I’m in training with two other dispatchers, so the four of us (including our instructor) piled into the sim with a simulator instructor. I’ve heard Jake talk about flying these types of sims, but it was fun to finally fly one myself!

Being the most current pilot in the group, I was volunteered to go first. When taking off on the Airbus, instead of bringing it smoothly to full power for take off, first it’s brought to half power. This is in case one of the engines fails, so the aircraft doesn’t spin around! Full power and I dance on the rudders to keep on the center line. I’d probably say it’s more of a Waltz unlike the Foxtrot when flying the Cub on a grass strip.

IMG_9521V1 and rotate! So fun to hear those words and get to respond. Soon I set the throttle to the climb setting and just climbed. I wasn’t quite listening to the Flight Director – maybe because I’ve only flown with one once before so forgot about it! Since this wasn’t an actual lesson, but just a fun experience. I decided to buzz the Golden Gate Bridge.

Soon the sim was screaming at me “Pull up! Terrain! Terrain! Pull up!” I probably could have gone lower, but it was still fun. I’ve heard Flight Simulator X doing the warnings when Jake flies, but hearing it fill a cockpit was a bit different.

Next up, stalling the aircraft. Or well, trying to stall it. Airbus doesn’t let pilot’s stall the aircraft. I have to say originally, I wasn’t such a fan of Airbus and fly-by-wire technology, but it was pretty cool to see it stop the stall. We went into a discussion about Normal Law, Alternate Law, and Direct Law on the Airbus.

IMG_9479I was set up for landing. First autopilot was on and it was doing just fine, but the sim instructor took it off and it was all me. I have to say I didn’t look at the instruments, I went with what I know. Visual approach. He said I was doing great, so I kept my focus. I landed where I wanted to, but my flare wasn’t so great. The instructor said it wouldn’t be a big flare but I made it too shallow and bounced it. Glad I’ve never actually experienced that in a real Airbus because it wasn’t fun.

Everyone else got their turn and it was fun to watch and experience. I told the sim instructor to do a V1 cut (engine after reaching a speed when you’re committed to taking off) on our instructor. He didn’t tell him it was going to happen, but instead said there was going to be a crosswind. He did great and got us off the ground without crashing, but immediately after asked “how strong was that crosswind?!” He wasn’t so happy that I suggested we do that to him. I just told him he should thank me for making him look so awesome for pulling it off without knowing!

IMG_9485We had some extra time so we had the sim do a CAT III auotland down to 300 RVR, which was cool to watch and probably terrifying in real life since you CANNOT see much at 300 RVR.  It was difficult to taxi with that little visibility.

I wanted to do an emergency descent to see how that felt. The descent didn’t feel like too much, but the sim doing cabin depressurization was pretty intense the noise and shaking!

Lastly, I volunteered to do a go around. Set up on final again and I knew it was coming. I got down to 50 feet and the sim instructor called for a go around. I knew it was coming, but I found it a bit difficult to push the throttles up so close to landing. In normal takeoff circumstances, the engines need to spool up for a few seconds. But when it’s in landing configuration and in idle, the computers adjust it so the engines spool up quicker in case of a go around. It was a lot more work than a 152 go around!

It was so fun and a wonderful opportunity. I brought my log book and had the instructor log it! I know, I’m such a dork, but I have no shame. Now I have a bigger aircraft in my logbook than Jake!

Simulator Time: 1.5 hours

Exciting News!

Where have I been? Being very busy! I’ve been bad. I’ve started at least three posts, but never got around to finishing and posting them. Don’t worry, the ones I feel are important I will be posting! (What? Isn’t every one important!?)

Bigger news though. While my flying has definitely taken a backseat the past month or so, my aviation career is booming! I can’t wait to share more about it with you all! I’m excited to say I’m finally working at a Part 121 airline as a dispatcher!

I received the offer days before it was my one year anniversary of my “checkride” for my dispatcher certificate. When I got my certificate I made a list of airlines I’d love to work for based on company and where their headquarters is located. It came down to a list of four and this airline is one of them! I’m unbelievably excited and up for the new challenge.

They only gave me two weeks to move so it’s been a whirlwind. Jake and I hopped in our two-seat Miata with our cat, Propeller and drove for 4 days. How we all survived? I have no idea.

I’ve already been in class for 3 weeks now and experienced amazing adventures already! I’ll be sharing some of them soon, but for now I have to get back to studying! But here’s a preview of what is to come: flying a full motion simulator, riding in the cockpit of an Airbus during a flight, and going to the tower and out on the ramp.

Glider Crew Day

I’ve been flying a lot more recently, but have been terrible writing about it. Sorry my blog readers! I’ll try to remedy that!

Yesterday, I went out to the glider club to fulfill my crew duty day for the month. Being a club member, you’re required to do one day a month of working crew. Either it’s ground crew, tow pilot, instructor, or crew chief. I want to eventually be a tow pilot, but I believe I need more tailwheel time as well as a glider pilot with the club.

photo-15I showed up late, since I worked until 4am there was no way I’d be able to be at the gliderport (an hour drive away) at 10am. The club knows and understands this. I jumped into launching gliders and retrieving them. Since this is the learning crew for newer members, we also get flights in and I got two in yesterday!

First flight was with an instructor I hadn’t seen before. A girl around my age, which is awesome since I’ve only seen old men. We got along great and I was hoping to fly with her again but got paired with our DPE the second flight. With her, we worked on minimum airspeed maneuvers and a couple of stalls.

Stalling a glider isn’t like a powered aircraft. It’s much less dramatic. We were doing gentle stalls so you could hardly feel the break in the stall and the glider just wants to recover so quickly. I’m used to the 152 and Cub stalling where they love to drop a wing. I enjoy this much more.

Another great thing about gliders, is you can also hear the wind much better and it helps judge airspeed. I don’t have to constantly look at my airspeed but can use my ears and stay looking outside.

This flight because of where we were over the field we did an unusual pattern. The approach was a bit all over the place and there was a gusty crosswind. We were pretty high and got knocked pretty hard by a gust right as we were crossing the threshold so the instructor took over and landed.


Piper Pawnee, our tow plane

I went back to ground crew duties and then got back up and I did most of the tow. Towing is the hardest part for me. It requires so much concentration to follow the tow plane. And you’re not even really in complete control. If the tow plane is going too fast you have to deal with it since this glider doesn’t have a radio to tell him to slow down. I had a lesson a month ago where the tow pilot was going 80mph when he’s supposed to go 60mph. We had to break off early since the glider was almost uncontrollable.

This time he was a bit fast which requires a lot more forward pressure, and I did develop a death grip on the stick and kept trying to fix. I didn’t create any slack line, which I have done in the past. It was gusting still and by the end of the tow I was pretty exhausted, but felt good I finally did majority of a tow.

More minimum airspeed maneuvers and did a steep turn. The approach and landing was much more normal, we did hit the one bump on the field and went back into the air, but not a terrible landing.

We started to put the planes away and pack up after my lesson. It was a long day for me but fun for the most part.

Lessons time: 0.8

Flight Count: 5

Total Glider Time: 2.7 hours

Aerobatics Take Two

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 3.37.48 AM

This is from my first lesson, but the smile has stayed the same!

Since I finally finished with my tailwheel endorsement and solo meant I could move back to aerobatics. I was beyond excited. I was watching the weather closely even the day before, but you know how accurate the forecasts are (it’s always different). Rain threatened the area since Saturday, but Monday rolled around and no rain. It was slightly windy, but at the time of the lesson it didn’t look terrible so I went without calling.

As I pulled up I saw my CFI walking away towards the hangars. I checked in with the office and went to hunt him down. Luckily, I remember where the Citabria is kept so it wasn’t too hard. His son was out helping and promised him he would get to taxi in the airplane. He’s so adorable that I didn’t mind the extra walking!

We filled her up with a little gas, since too much would put us overweight for aerobatics, and headed out. He did the take off since it had been awhile since I was in the Citabria and it handles quite differently than the Cub.

We hardly eased into aerobatics unlike last time when turns gradually steepening, stalls and spin. We did about two turns and then straight into loops! This lessons he started to critique my execution of the moves rather than just me getting the simple idea of them. Loops, I wasn’t pulling back hard enough in the entry. I kept also wanting to let the stick go neutral at the top of the loop, but he said to keep it held back all the way through the top. The wind was also picking up slightly so making sure the entry was nice and straight because more of a chore.

Next up, hammerheads. I really enjoy this maneuver. I feel on this one I need to anticipate a bit better. I wanted to push the stick forward later than he was telling me, but if I followed that instinct I’m sure I wouldn’t be vertical but beginning a loop.

I learned a move we didn’t do last night, the Half Cuban and Cuban Eight. Half Cuban is a lot like an Immelmann and I had to ask the difference when he first explained it to me (I didn’t study before the lesson!) An Immelmann you roll at 1/2 way through the loop, while Half Cuban you’re not rolling until 5/8 of the way though the loop. The reason for this is the angle you’re headed when you roll out of the inversion will help you build speed when you’re doing a Cuban Eight to do the maneuver again.

I enjoy these types of moves because you’re upside down just long enough to start falling out of your seat. Though I made sure I buckled up tight this time so I could continue to reach the rudder pedals. After a few Half Cubans, he suggested I do a Cuban Eight, which is just two Half Cubans in a row and it looks like a figure eight.

There have been times in both lessons where I just can’t control myself and I let out a “whoo!” during the Cuban Eight that happened, it was just too fun! I have to admit, this move made me feel dizzy afterwards and my CFI called the lesson (he didn’t ask if I felt okay, it was getting to be close to an hour anyway).

As always, I can’t stop smiling after one of these lessons and can not wait for the next one! This was one of the best decisions in my flight training and will make me a more capable and confident pilot.

Has there been any of your training that has brought around confidence in your flying?

Now, only to get the money to buy a Pitts and compete in aerobatics…