This past week was definitely the busiest of the year around here. For the first time in a long time, I had a tracker (3rd set of eyes, either does all the talking or does all the typing) on one session, and then became the tracker the next session. Its all very exhilarating for the most part. The atmosphere changes, the little side conversations end, and the tension gets a tad thicker. Everyone starts concentrating a little more.
This first busy session wasn't THAT bad, really. Utica was combined with Watertown sector, as normal. Each sector has its own frequency, so we continually listen to, and transmit on, both. This causes aircraft to talk over each other sometimes, but we learn to deal with it. Utica's main frequency site was down for maintenance so we were using the backup, which conveniently became unusable right as a bunch of westbound overflights started checking in. I couldn't hear anyone, so we got everyone on that frequency to switch to Watertown's, and then spread the word to all the surrounding sectors to use the one good frequency only. For whatever reason, all the IAD landers were coming over SYR, and I had 30 miles in trail. Nothing a few vectors wouldn't fix. I turned a few CLE arrivals for spacing as well, and then said goodbye to everyone. The third issue were the rides. No one liked FL320, 340 or 360. So, while I would have gotten all the IADs down to FL300, the DCA would have stayed at FL280, and everyone else would have just gone over the top, instead, everyone wanted FL280 and FL300. That obviously wouldn't work, and it was hard to tell where the IAD vectors would take them in relation to the westbound overflights, so a lot of guys just had to stay at FL240 and FL260, in the interest of air safety. The rides were smooth, so they didn't complain much.
The second part of our fun afternoon came at Delancy(DNY)/Hancock(HNK) sector combined up. The frequencies worked, so that was good. We needed them. I had never been the actual tracker before. I had always been there as the radar controller already and done all the talking, standing behind the tracker sitting at the keyboard. This time, I got to sit and type. This is fine by me, I can hold my own on the keyboard. I have heard other controllers recall that back when we used strips all the time, they knew when they couldn't take it anymore if they didn't have time to write on the strips as they talked. I have come to realize the new generation will find our limit when we can't type fast enough to keep up with our own words and thoughts. As the tracker, I quickly realized that it was MY job to take hand offs, something I hadn't really pondered before. I figured my radar controller would yell at me when they couldn't take it anymore. This presents a problem in relation to how we're trained to take hand offs. As a controller, anytime you take a hand off from another sector, we know what we have to do with that airplane. Then we have to figure out HOW we're going to accomplish it. Either: 1- we don't have to do anything. 2- it'll be no problem or 3- how on earth are we gonna make this happen. Should I just start talking hand offs with wild abandon!?
As I sat there, the three of us all collectively contemplated how ugly this could get. Delancy's issue is that all the planes have to descend at either other or parallel to each other, and we often require high rates of decent to make it all happen. Its very disconcerting when you have to start descending a plane from FL260 to FL220, but the plane that is going UNDER that plane is still out of FL330. But if you don't start the first one down now, they'll never get to FL190 once the second one is level at FL180.
So, the situation is this: Get the SWF lander down to 17000 now and then he can cross DNY at 11000 at his leisure. Then get the EWR lander down to FL180 but not before the AVP guy gets down to 16000, over the SWF lander. The HPN arrivals also need to step down over the EWR and AVP down to FL180. They all need to get under a PIT going against the flow west over HNK at FL260. Then the PHL needs to somehow cross them all on the way from FL260 to FL190. That's the MAIN issue, as we also have ALB arrivals not really getting in anyones way, and a LGA arrival that we'll just leave above the PHL. There are a few other props slowly moving at 15000 just to keep the scope adequately cluttered. The radar controller does a fine job, and 20 minutes later, I'm off to relieve the RKA radar controller. Its a nice little warm up to what promises to be a long summer of brutal traffic.