Air Traffic Control Tower Tour - ATC - Aviation Information

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Air Traffic Control Tower Tour

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This might be interesting if you have never made it to a control tower before. These pictures were taken when no operations were going on and I was not working ...that's probably why you don't see any aircraft taxiing or flying around in the pictures. I'll do my best at explaining everything, if you have questions, just ask. The equipment you see at Hobby is probably the most up-to-date equipment you will find in air traffic control towers across the country.

ASDE-X
The image you see displayed below is known as ASDE-X (Airport Surface Detection Equipment - Model X) About a million times better than AMASS. As you can see our runway/taxiway setup has a lot of crossings...this helps keep us keep track of everyone....it is a great tool. It can track vehicles and aircraft taxiing around on the movement area. It reads the aircraft's beacon code and will display information such as their callsign, departure gate, speed, and type aircraft. This is extremely beneficial in low visibility as we know exactly where the aircraft are at all times on the field. There have been many times in the tower where we have been fogged in...it looked like someone painted the windows white, but with the ASDE-X we can see everything. We are also one of about a dozen towers in the U.S. that have safety logic incorporated on the ASDE-X. Safety logic aids the air traffic controller in helping to prevent collisions. It will give aural warnings if two planes are projected to collide on the airport. When it was first introduced almost a year ago, I had mixed thoughts, but it seems to be alright so far. The black images are runways, dark grey images are taxiways, grey images are non-movement areas, and light grey are buildings.

IDS-4
Another tool we use is the IDS-4 (Information Dissemenation and Display System)...another site mentions..."this thing should be called the IDADS but when the FAA spends four million on a project it can name it whatever it wants"....thought that was funny. The IDS-4 is basically an ATC encyclopedia. It has many of the rules and regulations we go by as well as local procedures and approaches, aircraft types and weight, airports in the area...among a mess of other things. Pretty useful when you need some quick info...saves you from having to dig into a manual while on position to find the answer. You are looking at the IAH, HOU, and EFDs weather information.

STARS
STARS display - known as Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System is what you see below. Another very cool and new piece of equipment. A lot of facilities are still using the ARTS. What you are looking at is HOU Class Bravo airspace with EFD - Ellington Field Class Delta off to the east. I have set the radar maps up to show Hobby's main arrival flow...called the "south flow." The two triangles about 8 miles NW of the field is Downtown, the "H" with the circle around it just below the 12R extended centerline is the Medical Center, the triangle to the west of the "H" a few miles is the Williams Tower (the tallest building outside of a downtown area in Texas)...just below the "H" is the Astro Dome. There are a bunch of other markings, but I won't get into what those mean. If you wanna know more about the capabilities of STARS, just ask!

Delay Ops
We got this set up a while ago....I don't really care for it. We are supposed to use this to track out delays. When we enter our delays in here because of thunderstorms or what not, apparently other facilities can see this...namely I90 - Houston TRACON...that way they can sequence our departures with other area facilities like IAH to allow a smoother operation during bad weather....still not sure if this system works the way it should though.

Airfield Lighting Panel
This is our lighting panel...all touch screen...if you have fat fingers this may not be for you...works alright...could be better I guess. The cool thing, instead of having to know off the top of our heads what lighting setting is required for different visibilities...we just choose the runway setup we are using along with the visibility outside and if we are day or night...then it turns on all the appropriate lighting and intensity as the 7110.65 states is necessary.

Altimeter/Clock
This is the main altimeter setting we use in the clock...just standard display...the clock below it is set in GMT - Greenwich Mean Time...or ZULU...standard time used in aviation.

Digital ATIS
This is the digital ATIS screen (ATIS-Automatic Terminal Information Service). This is sent by our weather observers/forecasters located on the airfield. They update it continously, at least once an hour, but many times in inclimate weather. The ATIS is then transmitted over a frequency by some robot voice to all the pilots...no more reading the ATIS...yeah!

FDIO
What you see here is the FDIO - Flight Data Input/Output...some people refer to it as the "FIDO." We can generate all our flight plan data from this little setup as well as amend aircraft callsign, type, speed, route, altitude... Actually...there is a lot you can do with this...you'll learn about it more if you haven't used one yet in due time.

PDC
PDC - Pre Departure Clearance is being used more and more these days. Instead of aircraft calling clearance delivery to receive their flight plan from them, they will access their flight plan via their ACARS and upload the flight plan information directly to the aircrafts on board computer. This saves time on the air traffic controllers end and pilots...You see a lot of Southwest flights...I believe Hobby is the 4th busiest Southwest airport in the country...handle about 150 flights a day from Southwest.

Frequencies and Comm
This is what we use to select all our frequencies and coordinate with other facilities or other controllers within our facility...it is touch screen...pretty simple.

Ribbon Display
This is called the Ribbon Display...we can set it up for certain arrival/departure flows...it is linked to the ITWS...I'll get to that in a second. This displays the current zulu time along with the winds at the airfield...it will also alert the controller if there is windshear or a microburst on the airfield.

ITWS
ITWS - Integrated Terminal Weather System gives us all sorts of info...approaching fronts, winds at altitudes of 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, tornados, intensities of the weather, among many other things...a very useful tool...this is linked to the Ribbon Display to break it down for the controller in a quick and easy way to relay it to the pilot.
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