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A couple months ago my flight to Chicago had a medical emergency and we had to land in Cleveland to drop off a passenger. I decided to listen to Air Traffic Control (ATC) which is a feature offered by United. I found it pretty interesting and not at all like what you see in the movies.
One thing to note is that ATC is made up of several independent divisions. Here is a brief summary of all the divisions that my flight passes through on its way from Hartford to Chicago:
Below is a transcript of radio chatter from my flight, United 719. This starts soon after we contacted Cleveland Center. It's interesting to hear all the different people talking. For instance some people are friendlier than others and some have thick accents, like Korean 360 which obviously had a Korean pilot. It's also interesting to hear them announce "traffic" when routes intersect or run parallel within 2000 feet of elevation.
Numbers are constantly tossed back and forth and may refer to flights, speeds, headings, altitudes or radio frequencies. Sometimes they say the whole number and sometimes they read out the digits. Jargon is also pretty common, for instance saying puddle to refer to a puddle-jumper, a small propeller driven plane for short regional flights or heavy when referring to jumbo jets or cargo planes. They also use words to call out letters for instance Quebec for Q, Foxtrox for F, etc, particularly on the ground where every taxi-way and runway has a specific letter and number designation (more on that some other day). So it requires a basic understanding of what's going on and a good ear to figure things out sometimes.
One thing you can't see in this transcript is how crazy things get near Chicago where the traffic and congestion mean constant radio chatter. The radio is always on with updates from dozens of flights and you never know what you're going to hear when your crew switches channels. I really feel for the ATC controllers that have to work at O'hare. I actually heard pilots saying "Unbelievable!" to the ground control after having to back-track a route to get to their gate. The controllers have to be on top of things and there's very little breathing room with so much traffic and thousands of lives in their hands. My hat goes off to them.
... (UA719) Cleveland Center we're experiencing moderate chop at 3-6. (CleC) United 6, conditions? (UA6) light chop last four minutes (UA719) How is 4-0-0? (CleC) light chop reported but that was 20 minutes ago (UA719) Trying 4-0-0 ... (CleC) United 7-19, Status heading up there? (UA719) It's been continuous chop all the way, United 7-19 ... (UA719) 7-19 now picking up light turbulence at 3-8-0 (CleC) Puddle 6-60, how is it where you are? (660) at 3-6-0 had some chop while we leveled out but it's better now (CleC) United 7-19, Puddle 6-60 says 3-6-0 is better now (UA719) Going to 3-6-0 United 7-19 (CleC) United 7-19, Toronto Center says 3-60 should be a pretty nice ride soon (UA719) Appreciate you checking for us, United 7-19 (CleC) 7-19, contact Toronto center 3492 (UA719) Toronto 3492, United 7-19 ... (UA719)Toronto Center, this is United 7-19 at 3-6-0 experiencing light chop (TorC) United 7-19, hello, that should clear up for you in a little bit, it gets better as you head west (UA719) Thanks ... (TorC) United 7-19, traffic at 12 o'clock 1000 feet below (UA719) Traffic ahead, United 7-19 ... (TorC) United 7-19 contact Cleveland Center 1-2-6-5-2 (UA719) 1-2-6-5-2 Cleveland, United 7-19 ... (UA719) Cleveland, United 7-19, 3-6-0 finally smooth (CleC) 7-19, what was your condition? (UA719) Well, it was 100 miles back, continuous light chop ... (CleC) United 719, maintain 3-4-0 (UA719) 3-4-0, United 7-19 ... (CleC) United 719, contact Cleveland Center 1-3-3 dot 8-7 (UA719) 1-3-3-8-7, 7-19 ... (UA719) Cleveland Center, United 7-19 at 3-4-0 (CleC) United 7-19, maintain 3-2-0 (UA719) 3-2-0, 7-19 ... (UA719) United 719, at 3-2-0 (CleC) 7-19, Roger, no complaints ... (CleC) United 7-19, descend at discretion, maintain 2-0-0 (UA719) with discretion, maintain 2-0-0 ... (CleC) United 7-19, contact Chicago Center at ???? (UA719) ????, United 7-19 ... (UA719) Chicago Center, United 7-19 descending to 2-0-0 (ChiC) United 7-19, 2-0-0 ... (ChiC) United 7-1-9, cross fire ??? at 0-0-niner thousand (UA719) Cross fire at 9000 feet, united 7-19 ... (ChiC) United 7-1-9, contact Chicago Approach, 1-1-niner-0 (UA719) 1-niner-0 7-19 g'day ... (UA719) Approach, United 7-19 at niner thousand *lots of stuff* (ChiA) bonzo?, United 7-19 ... (ChiA) United 7-1-9, descend and maintain 7000 (UA719) 7000, 7-19 ...Of course we had to turn off all electronics after this so that's all I could get.
Posted 06/25/2009 10:14 PM in Chicago, Geek Stuff, Hartford, Ramblings, Travel, Who knew? | Total Comments: (3)
Link To This Blargh
wow, that is so cool, i'll have to listen for that next time i'm on united. i remember learning a simplified version of all that at the museum of science and industry - they have an exhibit in that airplane that talks about going through the different control centers for directions, etc, remember? i think we did it at the D & T christmas party one year...
Submitted by caroline on 06/25/2009 11:09 PM
I actually wrote about that but since it was getting long I edited it out. I thought that was at the Smithsonian when we were in DC though? Cause wasn't it just us and wasn't it daytime when we saw that exhibit?
Submitted by filbert on 06/26/2009 05:58 PM
Submitted by 1 on 11/19/2016 03:25 AM