Last Monday, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the FAA control tower at Fort Wayne International Airport, my local aviation complex. After a year of either forgetting to call or finding the right phone number (there were, like, six different digits), I finally got the correct one and made the request. It wasn’t too much of a hassle to get a date and time down- the supervisor on the line was extremely accommodating.
That aside, after everything was settled, I took a brisk 25 minute drive on I-69 down to Winters Road. Eventually turned off and went to the security screening gate and stated my intentions (ba dum pssshh). They let me in and I parked.
The guy who greeted me at the door went by the name of Tom Harris. He was the one who arranged the tour on the phone, so it was nice to meet him in person. Not far off from retirement, either.
After some quick pleasantries, he assigned me a relatively new trainee who was only eight months into his certification on terminal(tower) to show me around. KFWA is an up/down facility, by the way, meaning that there is local and radar combined, which makes it possible for someone to earn additional certifications on the side.
The trainee who got stuck with touring duties showed me around the ground floor first. Scattered throughout were your standard briefing room, vending machines, break area, and a training simulator for controllers. Since FWA is a newer facility (tower was made in 2006), everything was fairly new and had that shine to it, if you will. Wasn’t falling apart like Reno. ;)
I believe the only time we stopped was to discuss the ATIS screen in one of the rooms. The trainee brought up some NOTAMS going on around the airfield, especially around Taxiway Sierra. Plus, some musings over the METAR was a good bonus. I surprised him with my ability to read the numbers and letters on it. Cough IFATC cough
Oh man, was the TRACON fun. There were two controllers working inside of it when I went in. One was handling ATIS and clearance delivery- the other was doing approach. Quick introductions were to be had, and from it, I learned that one of the controllers had gone to a CTI school three years ago and slipped in just in time before the FAA froze all preference for those two years back. Lucky! The other guy took the classic OKC route and decided to pick this facility after a harrowing 12 weeks of trying not to wash out.
Everything in there was kind of a blur, so I can’t really remember the order events went in, but they included:
- Physical copy of the .65. The holy bible for controllers. We had a good laugh at that one.
- Checked out the radar screens. Discussed new installations.
- Brief mentions of vectoring.
- Witnessed a shift change- supervisor came in and received info on whereabouts and intentions of every plane under approach control. Took over so the other guy could take a nap. He has his priorities straight.
- Contemplation about life.
Outside of the list, I remember talking about ways to get planes across the airfield and getting advice on that in preparation for global. I must’ve gone off on a tangent and got really technical, since both controllers on duty started laughing. I asked why, and they said that from what they heard, I knew more than the trainee standing next to me. Source of another good laugh. Maybe it’s true, though… cough
I don’t think a lot could’ve prepared me for stepping inside a cab during actual daylight hours, and man, was it amazing. You could see the whole airfield from the 280 feet length of the tower, plus all of downtown and this huge stone quarry that constructors put up a while ago.
Once I got up there, there were two guys working tower and ground respectively, but one got off shift a few minutes after. Once that happened, the other guy (Jim, if I remember), took over ground duties as well. Yes, that happened. The traffic level at this facility doesn’t necessarily warrant having one person on each position at a time, so during low hours, that setup is deemed okay by facility directive.
The trainee who was showing me around was up there as well, and I asked him some general questions about local. This is what I got from those inquires:
- LUAW cannot be used when one person is working both tower and ground. Ironic, given how we double on IF.
- Runway efficiency- land 27 and turn off Charlie onto the ramp for GAs only.
- Intersection takeoff lengths for different aircraft- how much runway they need. Even saw a map that gave us quotes on how long the runway was at each intersection.
- Spacing. 3 miles minimum for them on passing from approach. Mentioned LHR’s way of shaving it down to 2.7 miles with headwinds. Got some interesting reactions. Lol.
- When to give exit instructions. BIG one for some people in Infinite Flight.
- Using other runways as exits. It’s more common than you would think. An aircraft that arrived on Runway 23 turned off onto 27 and right onto Charlie.
- Crossing. They give those instructions on ground due to the way the airfield is setup.
- Terminal pushback layout.
- Center release. Phone calls to ATL/DTW centers to allow arrivals to leave.
- Paper strips. Lots of 'em.
- Dual radar/tower communication. There is a mini radar setup in the cab for controllers to use during night hours so tower doesn’t have to call down to TRACON to coordinate. They can just do it in person instead.
- Other stuff. Relevant as I lecture more in the future.
Moving on, we had some operations occurring up there. Seeing planes land from the tower in real life is an insane feeling that I can’t really replicate. Although we’re a smaller facility, it’s a wonderful satisfaction to be watching traffic come in.
Some of the arrivals included:
- Cessna 172
- Delta CRJ
- Beechcraft Bonzana
- Citation X
Departures were on the low side during my half hour in the cab. Just a quick turnaround of the CRJ, Bonzana, and a small business jet- that’s about it. The A10s from the 122nd Fighter Wing weren’t operating today, hence the casualness.
At one point, I noticed a small building off of Runway 27, and it was pointed out that it happened to be a backup cab in case the tower had to be evacuated due to leaks, explosions, fire, etc. Also the site of NTSB investigations, if necessary.
Insert more stuff eventually
Overall, I loved the experience. As you can tell from the length of the post, the visit was something that not enough words can justify. I can still go on for a while, but it’ll wind up being a drag to get through. What I took that day was an increased love and appreciation for ATC, and a smattering of wonderful techniques to use when global hits. Any pilots who fly through FWA, be warned and brush up on local procedures. I’ll be watching. :)