June 26, 2008

Mammatus, and a free car wash.

I enjoyed my lone day off, and while it wasn't nearly as long of a day as I'd hoped for, it was decent enough.

I headed down to Boston, got some lunch, watched some planes at Logan, and then got some good views of some thunderstorms as they headed southeast out to sea. The strong sea breeze blew in the ocean air, and it was very relaxing from atop the central parking garage. The drive home offered some quiet time in traffic as a storm passed over, offering the free car wash.

I have done some storm chasing back when I lived in Denver, and even though there isn't much to chase around here in the northeast, I still get to soak up some towering cumulus clouds now and again. And this got me thinkin':

I don't really know who my readership is for certain, though a few comments here and there are cluing me in (thanks for them all). I hope there are a bunch of pilots out there who read occasionally, and I invite them to read this post and consider this blogger's request for more cumulonimbus satisfaction.

Note above that I said I storm chased, as opposed to tornado chased. I've seen a tornado or two, but semantics aside, huge thunderstorms are amongst the most awe-inspiring events nature can conjure up. The only thing that beats a thunderstorm from the ground is a thunderstorm from a safe distance when airborne. This is where you, the pilot, comes in. I often read a blog called FL390. The posts often include a picture or two from the flight deck looking out at something interesting (often times, weather related), and the blog reflects upon the moment and how it was handled from a flight crew perspective. I really can't get enough of the thunderstorm pics.

I invite all pilots out there, when possible (I certainly don't expect safety to be compromised!), to snap a shot or two of thunderstorms next time you're deviating around one, and then send them in to Nas-Confusion. If I can get a bunch of good ones, I'll post them periodically here, and add some color and light to this dim blog. Pics can be submitted in .gif, .jpeg, or .png form, zipped preferably, and emailed to deltamike172@Hotmail.com. Hopefully we can spread the beauty of mother nature at her finest this summer. I look forward to any and all you can find.

P.S. This invitation is open to passengers as well! Please include location, date, time, and any other info about the flight you want (Airline, Aircraft, route of flight, etc).

P.P.S The subject line of the email should be "Blog Thunderstorm Pics". Thanks!

June 21, 2008

Going to nEWRk?

I get into work today at 7am sharp. At 7:05am, I'm sitting at DNY sector with one airplane. And it's trying to get to Newark. Area E has already been shut off by New York Approach, and they have 10 of them spinning. So I take mine and assign holding as well. Fantastic.

Later in the day, at Albany (ALB) sector, I'm working the standard international arrival rush to Newark around 11am. This time, they're running smoothly, for the most part. Cumulus clouds are starting to build, but no one is deviating yet, and there are lots of VFR planes cruising around. We spot one of them northwest of Albany at 16500 feet acting like a decent twin prop plane. Its flying south right along V213 (the arrival route that we deliver the Newarks to Area E at 16000 feet). Meanwhile, I'm getting pretty busy with BDL departures crossing Manchester arrivals, mixed in with a prop or two and a Quonset, RI arrival.

The Newarks start coming in droves, each one higher and faster than the one before. My D-side-in-training calls the high sector to get control to slow them down, since the downstream sector just called and wants 250 knots on all the Newarks. There is a TEB and HPN arrival in the mix converging with the Newarks from the east, and they must get down below everyone else. The VFR traffic is 10 miles south of ALB, still at 16500, and I have to get these two biz-jets down to 14000 quickly so I can get the Newark jets down below the VFR. The last thing I want to do is have to go over the top of a VFR prop with a B767. This is where the link to the definition of wake turbulence would go.

The first two get down no problem, keeping their speed up until they level at 16000, then I assign 250 knots. The high sector has assigned the oncoming string 310 knots, and now the compression is really getting tight. I need to slow them to 250 knots first, and then have them descend, but they can't stay high for too long, or they'll nail the VFR guy along the airway. I am talking constantly, stepping all the traffic down on top of other traffic, and calling traffic advisories to the Newarks as they narrowly descend under the VFR. I wonder if that pilot every saw the B767s fly 500 feet below at less than a mile laterally. I hope he got a good show.

Another day shift in the books. Two more to go this week.


June 18, 2008

Missing out on all the fun.

I had two days off this last week (first since January, so it feels weird) and flew to Nashville to meet up with my parents who are on a typical summer road trip. Denver-Laredo, TX-Nashville-Atlanta-Denver. We ate some good food, listened to some "good" country music (it actually was pretty decent), and enjoyed sweltering in the heat. I flew out there Saturday morning. The reroute around storms in the DC9 was entertaining, and then we narrowly survived a line of thunderstorms descending back into Manchester on Tuesday night. No more summer flying for a while, I promised myself. Pilots are crazy.

Since then, my new schedule has avoided most of the weather coming through the area. Not ALL of it, mind you, but definitely the worst of it. With summer travel season upon us, even the airline cutbacks has been hard to notice. And with more controllers taking vacation or retiring, the supervisors are forced to let me work more traffic either one-holed or without a tracker than they have in the past.

All the storms tend to build around the NY/PA border on the southern edge or our airspace, so aircraft often get rerouted up over Canada and Lake Ontario. This adds a plethora of descending eastbound traffic that have Miles-in-Trail requirements to the NY Metro to cross the SYR area in the sector that works all the westbound climbing departures. That sector can work a lot of airplanes, but when these "Can(ada) East" reroutes are in affect, the frequency often overflows with aircraft checking in on two different frequencies. Toronto Centre only puts aircraft on 135.25 and all the westbound traffic gets 123.87. Sometimes you just wish everyone would shut up, and if the rides are bad, I'll gladly take the D-side.

The weather has consistently been the worst on Saturday night. This night is generally the slowest, traffic wise, although, when a huge line of storms go over every major Northeast airport at the same time, the planes stack up in a hurry. On my old schedule that I had during training, I would have worked every one of these crazy Saturday nights. This year, I'm going home at 2:30pm, leaving the scramble to my old crew mates. I return Sunday morning to hear fun stories about refusing handoffs from Canada, and how there were 7, no, make it 9 planes holding over ART (and by the afternoon, they had been holding 12!) and the narrowly avoided mid-airs. I can't help but appreciate my new schedule a little more each day.

The only other weather I worked was as a D-side at Albany. It was steady traffic, but the constant flow was almost enjoyable, as my R-side and I work well together. The BDL arrivals were few and far between, as they were quickly cut off by a blob of storms 20 northwest of the field. This weather also got in the way of the few PVD arrivals we had, but a point out to Kingston sector solved that deviation. BDL departures occasionally would depart with hope of finding a hole, and would often enter our airspace about 30 miles west of normal, and we'd cut them direct SYR since they were head on with EWR arrivals. EWRs were deviating west of a storm over ALB, and the LGA and HPN arrivals would go east of it, affording us "Cumulonimbus separation." ALB departures were also few and far between, and the northeast bound headings were weird, as they normally fly a northwest heading initially. The situation was never out of control, and planes were clearly flying between the precipitation depicted on our scope, so we were able to keep a good plan the whole time. I left to go home soon after, leaving behind a chaotic energy of controllers, airplanes, and uncertain deviations and reroutes...