This is an except from a book on ATC, called Sweet Talking The System, published by the Instrument Pilots Library. Copies can be found though it is out of print. A true story! Enjoy!
The Perils of Databoy Dan
At the lowest link of the evolutionary ATC food chain, exists a life form virtually ignored by the flying public. Barely paid a subsistence wage, these bottom feeders are lumped together under the acronym ATA.
Air Traffic Assistant; it even sounds bogus – not a real air traffic anything, but an assistant, like something you’d learn in a school from a matchbook ad.
“Goodbye mom! I am off to air traffic assistant school.”
“Oh, if only he become a real controller like his cousin Eb!”
ATA are the ATC equivalent of gophers. Nobody knows just what they’re supposed to do, and as a result, all the undesirable work is dumped on them.
"Who wants to give a tour? "
"Then one night, the ATA’s rebelled. Actually, one ATA rebelled. And it wasn’t so much a rebellion as a simple mistake that managed to shake the air traffic system from Denver to Washington.
His mother had named him Daniel. We called him Databoy Dan. He was a simple GS-7 with demonic powers. Databoy was the best ATA at Des Moines and was being rewarded by being promoted into the ranks of real controllers.
It was early one morning, 4 AM to be exact, and Databoy was working his last graveyard shift prior to being sent to Boot Camp in Oklahoma City. The last rush of late night check haulers had departed and the first air carrier was not due until 5:30 AM. Databoy was bored and thought he might compose a farewell message for his replacement, who was scheduled to work the morning shift.
Being careful not to wake the real controller, Databoy began typing an ersatz flightplan into the computer. He gave it call sign: N628D. He declared it to be a Bonanza, BE5/R; 150 knots and it showed a proposed route of flight from Des Moines’s to Cedar Rapids, 80 miles away. He filed a proposed time of 8 AM local, the heart of the Monday morning rush. As an afterthought, he entered into remarks: “BRAIN DONOR ON BOARD,” and giggled when the computer accepted it.
Well, he thought, if one fake flight plan is funny two would be funnier yet, and three would be quite a chuckle to his replacement, who would be left to wonder why no one ever called for these clearances.
Strange things happen inside an ATC facility at 4 AM. (On a midnight shift, I once saw Elvis taxi an SR71 past the tower.) SIXTY-four flight plans later, Databoy pushed back from the keyboard, certain he gave his relief a real belly laugh at 8 AM.
At 6:30 AM, Dan rubbed the sleep from his eyes, briefed his relief, “oh, nothing unusual…; Checklist complete,” and left the tower. By 6:57 AM, he was home in bed, asleep. At 7:30 AM, atlas shrugged.
“This thing won’t stop printing!” The new ATA stammered to a supervisor while tearing reams of flightplan strips from the printer, “look at them all!”
A disconcerted supervisor waded through the flight plans. Pilots called for clearances and were told to standby; clearance on request.
Flight plan after flight plans spewed from the printer. Lear after Lear was filed in Denver, a half dozen Citations wanted to go to Chicago O’Hare; another eight to Midway and three to Meigs Field. 11 F-18s filed various round robin flights from Des Moines’s to Canada to East Texas.
Clearance delivery ran out of room to post the strips and began lining them up on the floor. Pilots were told to continue standing by. Ground scanned the parking ramp with binoculars searching for call signs to match the proposals. They came up dry.
The printer ribbon snapped.
Center called wanting to know about all the proposals. They said they’d have controllers on overtime to handle the anticipated departure rush.
The printer kept flailing around until it’s ribbon became tangled with the paper, making a gagging noise, like a zucchini in a garbage disposal. Flow control called and slapped a ground stop on everything from Des Moines. They called O’Hare, and after explaining to them where Des Moines, Iowa was, implemented flow restrictions westbound from O’Hare and did the same thing for Denver departures eastbound.
Databoy Dan slept the sleep of the unsuspecting.
By 8:32 AM, with a system locked in uncertainty, flights delayed and tempers short, someone noticed the remarks on N628D, “BRAIN DONOR ON BOARD.”
Something wasn’t right; something did not add up. Slowly, the realization was dawning that some sort of virus had infiltrated the system and as pieces were fit into the puzzle, the finger pointed to a slumbering GS7 who just trashed the most sophisticated transportation system in the world.
The Russians once had a 17-year-old boy in a Cessna 172 Land in Red Square, causing profound political ramifications.
Had Databoy Dan been at the controls, the Russians would have surrendered.