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International Learn-to-Fly Day

May 16, 2010

May 15th was the First Annual International Learn-to-Fly Day.  Events were held worldwide to garner interest in aviation and both Heather and I did our part to celebrate flight.  Heather is part of the FAA and I’m on staff at AOPA so aviation serves as both of our livelihoods.  However, yesterday was less about work and more about showing off our passion for flying.

Heather’s Story: (A tour of New York  TRACON- N90)

The group (made up of four 99’s from the New England area) showed up at N90 at 2: 30 for the tour.  I first took them around the first floor, and managed to get them into the Airways Facilities room that contains all the computers that run our radar scopes and frequencies.  The technician gave a nice description of his duties and answered all questions asked.  Next we went up to the 2nd floor and entered the “room”, the name we give the operations room.  We stopped in Islip Sector, where I am from, and listened to the transmissions from a radar scope there, where training was going on.  I explained the radar targets (including primary and secondary radar), their “scratch pads”, where we put in entries such as aircraft type and destination.  We talked about airspace and how it is delegated to sectors and radar scopes–each piece of airspace is designed to serve a purpose .  I described what weather types are depicted on the radar scopes and how controllers use that information.  We also went through what information was available to each controller above their radar scopes on the IDS-4, a computer display which has much information available, from the weather (ATIS) at local airports, to copies of approach plates for approaches on that radar scope, to “tower enroute control” routes for IFR aircraft if the need an IFR pickup.

We toured through EWR, JFK and LGA sectors, stopping briefly to talk to controllers and supervisors.  Finally, we went up to the Traffic Management Unit (TMU) where I work.  I showed them a display on the TSD which showed all aircraft airborne in the U.S. on IFR flight plans.  All you have to do is point the pointer on one of the yellow specs on the display, and you would see the aircraft’s call sign, altitude, speed and minutes remaining on their flight. 

I showed them other TMU tools, such as TMA, or “Traffic Management Advisor”, which is our cutting-edge “NexGen” concept.  All aircraft going into the airport being “metered” by TMA are scheduled while on the ground by the computer to arrive at an arrival fix at a certain time to fill the slot.  This creates efficiency and lessens the workload on the controller, as they don’t have to vector to create spaces for arrival traffic. 

We also discussed the weather displays at TMU and how we use them to decide airport capacity. 

Sandi’s Story: (Girl Scout Interest Project – Women in Aviation – AOPA Chapter)

Meanwhile….in Frederick, MD, the Women in Aviation – AOPA Chapter was holding their first official outreach event.  We put together a program for Girl Scouts between 6th and 12th grade which would allow them to complete an Interest Project on aviation.  The chapter worked hard to put together a fantastic program and with the help of a local Scout leader, Erin, we pulled together a successful event.

The girls, 16 scouts and 9 adults, started with an overview of aviation and an introduction to types of aircraft and ratings.  They were split into 3 groups and rotated through unique stations designed to educate and inspire them to love flying the way we all do.

One station gave the girls a look at flight planning.  They used a sectional and plotter and learned how pilots plot their course, determine direction of flight, identify visual landmarks, and account for weather factors.  The next station gave the girls an opportunity to fly Patty Wagstaff’s Extra 300 by taking a turn on the flight simulators.  Here they got to see how the controls respond to their inputs, learned to read the instruments, and took a flight through a BARN!  (I have to say I was flinching a lot and even had to look away a time or two as I watched some of the girls spinning and diving towards the ground!)

The third station was a static display on the AOPA ramp.  The girls first did a walk-through on a chalk-drawn runway so they could learn about the “pattern” and how a pilot handles takeoff, entering the pattern, and landing.  They learned about radio communications and air traffic control as well.  Then they had a chance to do a “pre-flight” inspection and learn about the plane up close and personal.  We ended the day with another group session where the girls heard from a former commercial pilot (and a current AOPA staffer,) who shared her experience as an airline pilot.

Overall it was a great day.  The girls were excited and several of them are planning to take first flights as soon as they can and a few are even making plans to start their flight training!  I’d call that a huge success!!!!

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