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Operation Raincheck


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It’s been years since I’ve flown. The Cozy is my second aircraft that I’ve started building. The first was an RV9. I’ve never had an opportunity to fly in any homebuilt aircraft let alone one I was attempting to build. When I flew it was mostly in a Cessna. Out here in New Mexico in a spam can it was always a leisurely flight with as much vertical movement as there was horizontal. Other than contacting various FSS’s over the years talking with ‘officials’ on the other side of my radio was always done with trepidation, fear and a little awe.




One day about a month ago the president of my local EAA chapter, chapter 179, sent out a message that our local center (ABQ Center) was starting back up a program called Operation Rain Check. It was a chance to tour the local center operations. I immediately signed Jan, my in-laws and myself up for the first Saturday that was open.




The agenda was:


Presentation on ABQ Center operations

Tour of the Center

Visit with the weather unit

Presentation from the Traffic Management Unit

Opportunity to sit with a Controller and observe operations

Presentation from the local ABQ FSS




Our tour was the second conducted since 9/11. We drove down from Santa Fe in gray skies and windy weather. Checking in at the guard shack I found I couldn’t take my camera inside (darn!) and we turned over our picture id’s in trade for a badge that would allow us access. Jan and her mom had their purses scanned while we chatted with the two folks who were going to lead the tour (Lisa and ‘Frenchy’). Frenchy was an RV6 award builder and pilot and Lisa was also a pilot. Each had a lot of experience, ratings and loved general aviation. The other members of the touring group included a fun and large spectrum of folks (13 in all). Tow others were from Santa Fe, she was a 182 owner and CFI while the other person had three aircraft including a Yak and was besides ferrying aircraft was also an airshow boss. One of the guys in the group turned out to be a retired Air Force member who was actually a drill sergeant in the same squadron I was a drill sergeant in (spaced out a few years) at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. There was a beginning student pilot and his instructor (CFI) from Socorro. She loved flying and he was slowing his student work down while building his RV8 (what’s with all these RV’s anyway?). Eventually we had all collected at the guard shack and it was time to get started. We ended up in a class room. There were 3 or 4 operations center staff there (pilots all) that lead us through the Saturday morning fun.




We had an overview of operations at the center, tips and tricks for the pilots (the easiest way to get what you want when you need it), and tons of other interesting stuff. One thing was a look at the evolution of equipment at the ABQ center. I think it was in about 3 or 4 stages since its start in the 40’s. That’s 3 or 4 equipment updates in that time frame. The latest update was just two weeks before our tour! One picture showed a wall about 12 foot long of radio (tube type – ask your grandfather what that is) equipment – just for one frequency. Today they handled over 70. Of course there was the old IBM XX90 computers that stayed in service well past the time they should have been in a museum. Those had a single green screen monitor. Right up to today’s really nice touch screen equipment (some of which would have went great on my computer system).




After a short break it was time to go down to the operations center! We split into smaller groups and each went to a different area of operations in the big room. Our group started off in weather. The meteorologist was fun to listen too and his own forecast for the local area proved accurate.- which is more than I can say for the news channels. He had an impressive array of weather screens surrounding him and gave us a nice overview of what the general weather patterns were like and why over our area.




After we were pulled from the weather section we headed to traffic management which is where we found out about the impact of the weather system over PHX. PHX was slammed in by weather and had ceilings at 2600 ft. PHX is limited in flight ops by the way the runways are constructed. They are too close together to allow simultaneous landings on the parallel runways so they must be staggered. With the weather that was in the area, there was a ground hold for 45 minutes on the aircraft at the field. Ground hold meant no one was taking off. Air ops for landings had been cut from a max of 60 per hour to about 40. Watching air operations at a national level on the screens was really fascinating. Since PHX was backing up all of the inbound flights to PHX had to be backed up so they went into an ‘18 mile and trail’ procedure. This meant that all approaching aircraft now had 18 miles between them as there paths stretched out across the US. Some were slowed and some were turned off heading for awhile and then back on heading until the separation of 18 miles was reached. It was really a thrill to watch this coordination both within the center and with the other centers surrounding. Every two hours (since 9/11) there is a national call between the centers, military etc to discuss what’s happening. Weather in one place may back up the entire system or they may need to reroute traffic nationally. It’s not just a matter of re-routing the traffic but it might also meant that now one center or another may have increased work load to handle from the diverging traffic flow so they’ll call in extra troops to handle it.




Finally we were asked what type of air operations we wanted to watch at the console. I picked low altitude northern sector for ABQ. That included Santa Fe! The traffic into Santa Fe was light but it was fun to watch the coordination and the data blocks on the screens telling the controllers type of aircraft, altitude, etc. The hand off was good and for the first time I realized when an aircraft was handed off a lot of times that meant the guy two consoles over was taking them!




After setting in Flight Ops we headed back up to the class room and had a briefing by one of our local FSS guy’s. He was great to listen too and explained the changes that had already happened back east and coming to our area soon. Our FSS was going to be one of the few reaming open after the consolidation. He gave us a list of phone numbers for the new system that you can dial anywhere in the US for services. I’ll post them at the end for those that may not have them yet.




All too soon the fun ended and it was time for a late lunch at Chili’s.




Since I haven’t flown in years and haven’t even been able to sling epoxy in months this was a real refresher and motivator. Maybe I should rethink a flying VariEze…






Cozy MK IV


Yeah only Chapter 4






National Phone Numbers for the FSS system:




Weather Briefing Services: 1-800-WX-BRIEF (1-800-992-7433)


Receive Clearances: 1-888-766-6267


Telephone Info Services (TIBS) 1-877-4-TIBBS-WX (1-877-4874-2799)




FFS web based including Flight Plans: http://www.afss.com

Bob Hassel

Cozy Plans #749

Santa Fe, NM




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