ATC - Behind the Scenes

ATC - Behind the Scenes

The Pilot's Prayer

Oh controller, who sits in tower
Hallowed be thy sector.
Thy traffic come, thy instructions be done
On the ground as they are in the air.
Give us this day our radar vectors,
And forgive us our ABC incursions
As we forgive those who cut us off on final.
And lead us not into adverse weather,
But deliver us our clearances.


The following pictures are Air Traffic Control flight progress strips.  Although these are old, the general format remains the same, minus a few changes in stripmarking.  A separate strip is kept for each aircraft that McGuire RAPCON controls.  Controllers record altitude changes, coordination and other items on the strips as aircraft progress along their route of flight.

Overflight Strip

The strip above is for Continental Flight 290 from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Newark, NJ.  It is termed an "overflight" strip because the flight simply overflies McGuire's airspace rather than landing within it.  The left-most block of the strip shows the abbreviated call-sign, the type aircraft (a Boeing 727), the aircraft equipment suffix (slant romeo), and a computer identification number.  In the next column to the right, the top box contains the aircraft's beacon code.  The large block in the center of the strip contains the route of flight (although only the portion concerning McGuire is visible) and handwritten altitude information.  The "60" indicates that the aircraft is at 6000 feet.  The handwritten information in the bottom right blocks are the time the aircraft first contacted McGuire, radar contact/handoff symbology, and the time the aircraft was transferred to the next facility.

Satellite Arrival Strip

This strip is for ExecJet Flight 513, a charter flight landing at BLM (Belmar Airport in Monmouth County).  It is termed an "arrival" strip because the flight lands at one of McGuire's satellite airports.  The information on the left side of the strip is the same as in the strip above - the "CL" symbol in the large block indicates that the aircraft cancelled it's IFR flight plan.  The small "W" indicates that the aircraft was issued weather information.  On the top right side of the strip you will see a 'VA' in one block and a 'FS' in the next block.  These indicate that the aircraft executed a visual approach for a full stop landing. 

Satellite Departure Strip

This strip is for a small general aviation aircraft whose call-sign is November One Three Niner Bravo.  It is termed a "departure" strip because the flight is departing 19N (Camden County Airport), one of McGuire's satellite airports.  The red line allows controllers to quickly identify the flight as a departure.  There are many handwritten symbols on this strip - some of them are:  the two small checkmarks to the left of the red line which indicate that required coordination was completed with Philadelphia and Atlantic City approach facilities, the "T" symbol followed by a '23' indicates the runway that the aircraft departed,  the "FRC" in the center block indicates that a "full route clearance" was issued to the aircraft (meaning that ATC ammended the route filed by the pilot), the four digit numbers in the top-right blocks on the strip show the times that the clearance was read to the aircraft, the time the aircraft was released for departure and the time this release was no longer valid. 

McGuire Departure Strip

This strip is a departure strip for TEAM74, a flight of two heavy KC-10 aircraft departing McGuire.  Note the symbology "50B60" in the large center block. This shows that the flight was cleared to maintain a "block altitude" of 5000 through 6000 feet.

Radar display elements

The graphic above shows the information that is displayed for each aircraft that radar controllers work. Controllers refer to this information as a 'tag.' The 4 digit (base 8) number, or beacon code, that appears just below the aircraft callsign is the key to the whole system - this code is dialed in to a special transmitter that each aircraft carries called a transponder. The transponder sends a signal to a special radar antenna on the ground that interprets the signal as a four digit number and displays it on the radar scopes. The transponder also sends altitude information based on the aircraft's altimeter. Since the beacon code has been issued as part of an IFR clearance before each aircraft departs, it can be stored along with the aircraft's identity, type, route information, etc. in one of several massive Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) computers. The ARTCC computers then send this information to radar facilities along the aircraft's route. Once the radar facility receives the 'tag' information from the ARTCC it can display it on the scope.