IAMA Air Traffic Controller at McGuire AFB, NJ on 9/11. AMA!
1.What was it like to issue the "NO FLY" call to the aircraft you were monitoring? Scary? Exciting? Sad? It was confusing/stressful, and a little scary
2.Did any pilots question the legitimacy of what you were saying? Were they hesitant to divert and land? initially a few asked a question but when they heard Center dumping aircraft on us with instuctions to land at the nearest Airport (Philadelphia) they quickly understood that something major was going on.
3.How tense was the tower during and after the attacks? I was in the RAPCON (RADAR APPROACH CONTROL) - pretty tense. Lots of air carriers re-routed from NY Airspace through ours to Philly.
4.Did any of the ATCs or yourself stop to watch the news? How were you informed otherwise? I actually was in the Chief Controllers office and watched the second aircraft hit. The Trade Center was only about 50 or so flying miles to where I was sitting...so it was of particular concern.
5.Were you allowed to go home at your regular scheduled time, or were you requested to stay after and help manage some of the sure-to-be chaos? I worked my normal dayshift . The normally extremely congested Northeast Airspace was cleared within a few hours. You could scroll the scope out and see no aircraft - which was extremely eerie as normally there would be planes everywhere. All you could see where a few fast moving fighters holding over the vicinity of NYC.
Proof Please? 1)How were you notified? 2)While working, did you have security come inside and supervise? 3)How nervous were you personally? 4)Worst reaction from a pilot or someone else you communicated with that day?
First rating shows facility rating at McGuire Afb Oct 1995
...Know if Ralph Parks father of Taralyn Parks? If so, I went to school with his daughter at McGuire :o... small world...
Actually it was Ralph Patterson
Proof Please? I'll post a picture of my "pink card later" (FAA Atc license) 1)How were you notified? My supervisor got word from NY Center 2)While working, did you have security come inside and supervise? No 3)How nervous were you personally? Moderately 4)Worst reaction from a pilot or someone else you communicated with that day? Some folks were visibly shaken to the point of tears.
What/who is NY Center?
New York Center is the air traffic facility that feeds all major airports in the North East between Washington Center and Boston Center.
I was the OP of the request, thanks so much for answering my questions. Very interesting information.
Thanks for all you do.
I don't know what would scare me more, my scope going black during busy traffic or seeing a plane start squawking 7500
Had the scopes go dark on me several times. Never fun. Worked an entire summer non radar at MCGuire due to someone cutting a line....good times.
I don't know what either of those things mean. Care to elaborate?
When you control you have a scope. If a plane in your vicinity is hijacked the pilot will start to squawk 7500. All planes have a squawk its like how we know who they are. It would be scary to control this type of situation because you don't know way the plane is going to do. If you were controlling traffic(airplanes) and your screen went black it means that you lost radar on every aircraft. So you have to work non-radar. We all train for it, but I feel it would be fairly tough to do.
Do you like spaghetti and meatballs
Yes, I do!
How has flight tracking and communications changed since 9/11? Everyone knows how security changed. I am wondering if anything change in your job.
There were new agencies created to help prevent future attacks. New training was provided to controllers and there was a revamp of all anti-hijack type training. I'm hopeful that the new procedures in place would prevent a catastrophe of this magnitude.
What precautionary measures were in place before this event? Was this scenario ever considered before? (Suicidal militants using hijacked planes as weapons)
Anti-hijacking procedures and training were something controllers were trained for but no one was prepared for hijacked aircraft being used as weaponry.
My wife worked in a bar back around 9/11. The bar she worked at was a hole -in-the-wall kind of place, but all the local Air Traffic Controllers would go there because it was a calm place, and it opened early enough for the overnighters to get a drink.
I don't have a question. But, I have talked to those men every week, in and out, for the past decade of my life. You have a tough job. Thank you.
Very cool! Thanks!
Not sure if I can be counted as proof, but I can vouch for him and his ATC guru-ness. I've worked with him from 2007 until now at another AFB. He is new to reddit and is asking what the best way to provide proof is? Any suggestions?
She's very lucky
Tell us more about this mysterious 'she'. What is a she?
lol yes there are "she" controllers. We are just as badass as "he" controllers. If not more so. Atcguru is just as lucky to get to work with me as I am to work with him!!
So, uh, the horse-sized duck or the 100 duck-sized horses? (which would you fight?)
Ok, sorry, serious question: was there any time that day where you said, "screw this, I'm taking a normal desk job"?
Good question...that day it did not cross my mind. There have been a few times where I unplugged after working a particularly stressful/emergency situation and said "who needs this!" But it was nothing some beer didn't cure. Also I'd fight 100 duck sized horses.
Amen to the beer. What kind of other "stressful emergency" situations have you experienced in ATC? What was different?
A couple of crashes when I was a tower controller. Once in Korea a Korean F-5 crash landed on a taxiway that had tons of aircraft, trucks, and equipment on it. I had to work furiously to get the area cleared just barely before the pilot skidded to a stop narrowly missing taxiing f-16s....no one died luckily.
Wow, amazing. I wondered "why Korea?" for a moment and then noticed that you're USAF. Thanks for answering, and thank you for your service!
Thanks - was Air Force for 20 yrs. now a crusty old civilian controller.
How has hardware / software evolved over time in ATC? It seems that the equipment you see at airports / bus stations / on boats / etc... seem to be stuck on legacy software that could probably be done better with new equipment but are still on old shoddy equipment.
Since I've been doing this since 1990 things have changed some. The idea is still the same . Improvements to the radar systems have helped. The most drastic changes have been the software and presentations we now use. Much more modern and user friendly. Improvements in computer technology have improved - we can now have a touch screen computer at our fingertips with data that would previously had to have been memorized or looked up. Some places still have the old equipment...most are being upgraded...,more reliable now too!
Any good UFO incidents happen on your watch or that you heard of?
Never really had any major UFO incidents. Once a lady called the tower and insisted that Aliens were shining red lasers at her house. She insisted that I knew about it and that I put a stop to it immediately. Haha.
I moved to the area a few years ago, periodically I'll hear what sounds like explosions rumbling off all day.... Is it from McGuire AFB?
There is a range adjacent to MCGuire on Fort Dix where they fire artillery and such.
I was in elementary school in McGuire AFB during 9/11.
Was weird... everyone was getting taken out of school. Just seemed like a weird anomaly until I got home and my mom had the news on. I was young, so it didn't really sink in how bad it was.
It definitely was a strange experience ... I remember worrying about my wife who worked on base with and our first born whom she was carrying. Definitely disconcerting.
In your opinion, would the security measures, adopted after 9/11, have avoided the tragedy and are they sufficient to prevent such an event from reoccurring? Also, having seen the sky over the US, on flightradar24.com, tremendous respect for the way that you and your colleagues are able to keep the skies safe.
Thanks! It is a fun job usually. I think our current security measures would definitely have prevented this magnitude of a tragedy. Unfortunately our enemies are always looking for the next surprise tactic. We are definitely more prepared now!
Wasn't anyone suspicious of the last three hijacked planes? I'd imagine after news of the first plane broke it was relayed to all the current pilots in the air along with instructions to make emergency landings. What sort, if any, response did you receive from the other three planes? I've always wondered why jets weren't scrambled to intercept them and have always figured all the hijackings had to be in some sort of chronological sequence. Also relative to that, do you think any of the conspiracies surrounding the incident have any sort of credibility?
edit for grammar
No one was prepared for such an attack utilizing our own transportation system. Planes (fighters) were scrambled but not in a timely enough manner. The hijackers were savvy enough to turn their transponders off and offer no warning over the frequencies. The first aircraft that hit was considered a lost communication aircraft which is not too uncommon. It wasn't until the second aircraft hit that we knew that this was a terrorist attack. The system wasn't ready - that is why it was successful. As far as conspiracy theories- not a believer in this case at all, having seen what I saw.
A "lost communication aircraft" sounds pretty scary under any circumstances. But you say it isn't that uncommon. What might happen to cause the lost-communication phenomenon?
An aircraft that losses communication with ATC is called "NORDO" (for No Radio). It can happen due to problems with the equipment in the aircraft or controlling facility or the pilot keying in the wrong numerical value for the assigned frequency etc.
Did any of the aircraft issue a "special emergency" or squawk 7500?
No , to my knowledge the hijackers gained control quickly and no one was able to warn ATC. I think the pilot of the aircraft that crashed over Pennsylvania might have transmitted something and a hijacker transmitted a message over the frequency that he thought only the passengers heard. The hijackers actually turned off and changed their transponders to in order to confuse ATC and be undetected.
Would you say that day changed you ( as an air traffic controller), if so how?
Hmmm. Probably makes me more vigilant when working aircraft to expect the unexpected. Dealing with the restrictions and procedures imposed as a result of that day has probably improved my skills and ability to deal with the abnormal situations.
Are you in a college program? I would say just be confident and calm in your abilities - you'll do fine
How difficult is it to get the ATC MOS as an enlisted member?
I do not think it is they difficult ..,in the Air Force it's called AFSC ( armed forces specialty code). We always need new controllers. I think it is the best job in the Air Force. Go for it!
Do you watch Breaking Bad? It had a specific ATC scene in there, I was wondering if you were familiar with it and how realistic something like that was to you.
No, I've heard breaking bad is good though ... Now you have given me an added incentive to watch!
Is McGuire a good base to work at?? I grew up in Bordentown and would like to get stationed there at some point. I know you can only speak from the ATC side of things, and I'm a maintainer, but I'm sure you can offer some sort of incite.
My wife and I both were active duty at McGuire. I was stationed there from 1994-1997 then did a year in Korea and went back from 1998-2004. We both liked working there. The main draw for us was that we both were from the East coast. We liked that even though that there was not much going on around the base, you were right in the middle if everything too- New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia etc. Definitely a good assignment.
Yeah that's what I loved about growing up there. I'm currently at Cannon in New Mexico. I'm sure you've heard about this one!
Yeah...I almost ended up on Canon...I'm sure there are worse places. Maybe?
Haha! I wish I knew. Good memories of old wrightstown?
The security tightened tremendously! I had to drive everyday through a checkpoint at Ft Dix...security is still tight today all around but they would search each car going through the gates back then.
I don't get asked about it very often, and have only talked about it a few times. It was a stressful day but I didn't witness the explosions or see the smoke like some of the Ewr tower controllers... Nor was I "talking to" any of the hijacked aircraft. My experience was mild compared to those controllers working the aircraft in New York TRACON.
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