I Believe I Can Help You Fly
March 6, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Ever wondered about the gadgets air traffic controllers use to get you back on the ground? The folks over at Ars Technica have a overview of the technology of air traffic control.

Well, as it pertains to the US, anyway.
posted by rodgerd (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I thought all you needed was an 8-year-old kid.
posted by gman at 10:12 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is my pencil, my protractor, and the piece of cardboard I use as a ruler. We keep the Russian surplus vacuum tubes in a locked closet over there.
posted by Babblesort at 10:19 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pretty good overview. I got to visit NorCal TRACON a month ago, it was really cool. The room really looked like that linked photo of Potomac TRACON; dark, circular room design, slightly calm and high tech. The displays they had were beautiful, really high resolution / high refresh LCDs. The software and visualizations themselves seemed quite simple, certainly simpler than anything a modern video game has. But also very nicely tuned and appropriate to their tasks.

I'm excited about NextGen and ADS-B, it's going to make a lot of things better. Assuming it ever happens, that is. And there's some discomfort with how much we're going to rely on GPS over all other technologies. ADS-B seems pretty tinker-friendly, too, check out this ADS-B / iPhone integration for example.
posted by Nelson at 10:41 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Heh. I thought the 8 year old kid thing was cool and the reaction kind of dumb.
posted by Artw at 10:46 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wait, so they don't just use paper slips? (Damn Gladwell myths...)
posted by progosk at 10:53 AM on March 6, 2010

Early in my career, I worked on the Mode S beacon system. Think about that next time you fly.
posted by incster at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2010

They mention a video of British Airways flight 038 but wikileaks gives a 404. I believe this is the same video on liveleak.
posted by Skorgu at 11:37 AM on March 6, 2010

When I was watching the controller do his thing at TRACON I was delighted to see a paper strip delivered to his desk. Even better, it was a plane taking off from my very airport! I think the handoffs in the air from sector to sector are all electronic, basically a little box shows up on the edge of the screen flashing or coloured until acknowledged. The paper slip I saw was from a plane taking off into the airspace; that request has to be relayed from the control tower (far away) to some other controller, I guess. I also understand now why it can take 10-15 minutes to get a clearance to take off, you're on the sneakernet and pretty low in the interrupt priority queue.
posted by Nelson at 11:51 AM on March 6, 2010

Thank you rodgerd. When on a flight, I think more about a pilot's skills than an air traffic controller's. Sometimes I can see the control tower when taking off or landing, but mostly I don't pay attention even if I see it, and I certainly don't seek it out. Now I'm realising how essential the pilot/controller communication is. Comforting for flyers. Let's hope ATCs and pilots don't show up on a list of jobs made obsolete in 2010-20.
posted by drogien at 12:49 PM on March 6, 2010

I love flying on United because you can listen to the pilots talking to the air traffic controllers. Everyone is really polite and relaxed, which is reassuring. Also, I'm a bit of a communication nerd, to I like hearing it for that reason.

That is all.
posted by elder18 at 7:02 PM on March 6, 2010

Instead of a map of my journey on my chair screen I would much prefer to have a camera feed from the nose of the plane - that would be entertaining.
posted by Tamzin at 4:47 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes. So would a camera feed looking over the pilots' shoulders. But my idea would increase pilot anxiety, so I vote for yours.
posted by Songdog at 5:33 AM on March 7, 2010

Here's an interesting A380 nose-cam video for you, Tamzin. The kicker is it's pointed backwards, hanging off the landing gear. Cool perspective.
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on March 7, 2010

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