SuperATC Overview

Why SuperATC?
Typically you use the keyboard to select menu items in the Microsoft ATC Window. Alternatively, when flying with It’s Your Plane (IYP), you can say, “Select 1”, “Select 2”, etc., and Michelle pushes the associated menu items for you. But this is NOT what happens in a “real” cockpit. Hence, the sense of “Virtual Reality” is greatly diminished by the rudimentary Microsoft ATC Window selection methodology.

What SuperATC is…
SuperATC raises the level of performance that permits you to speak “typical” traffic calls to the internal Microsoft ATC system. The IYP code “listens” and “parses” the phraseology, and presses the appropriate menu selections within the Microsoft ATC system.

What SuperATC is NOT…
SuperATC is NOT a full-blown ATC system like Radar Contact. It still faces the limitations of the built-in Microsoft ATC system; a single Transition Level of 18,000 feet; does not permit SID and STAR departure and approaches; doesn’t address Holding Patterns, etc.

Learning ATC Chatter
SuperATC offers an entrance-level ATC mode that serves to introduce newcomers to the world of aircraft communications and accepted protocols. Obviously, a computer programme like IYP cannot take into account all of the chatter that would take place in the real world… like telling your friend in the Tower that you’ll see him at the ballgame next Saturday! However, it will better prepare those who are new to the world of ATC who may wish to subsequently graduate to a far more sophisticated ATC programme like Radar Contact.

Listen to Real ATC Communications
It would probably be a good idea to tune to actual ATC traffic and listen to the General Aviation traffic calls. You will quickly learn a lot about what is said, and when. You will also learn when other pilots are using incomplete call-ups, usually ATC will ask them for additional information.

Air Traffic Control Overview
Surprisingly, the majority of flights are not handled by air traffic control (ATC). In reality, the rules pilots are taught in flight school are designed to ensure the safe and orderly flow of aircraft traffic. However, when there’s a lot of traffic in a particular area, or bad weather conditions exist, then instructions from ATC are required.

The Basics
ATC is involved with monitoring air traffic, controlling navigation and flight patterns, and communicating with pilots by voice. ATC uses radio and radar in conjunction with ground-based navigational aids to control the flow of air traffic. Communication with aircraft is handled primarily by airport traffic control towers (ATCTs), air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs or centers), and flight service stations (FSSs).

Control Towers
Airport control towers provide for the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of traffic on and in the vicinity of airports. They sometimes also provide for the separation of aircraft flying instrument flight rules (IFR) in terminal areas through co-located terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities. Some control towers are not staffed by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees but are operated by private firms. Non-federal control towers (NFCTs) are still staffed by FAA certificated air traffic controllers.

There are more than 314 FAA airport control towers in the United States. More than 210 federal contract towers and 165 military towers also help separate aircraft. There are also 22 terminal radar approach facilities (TRACONs), some of which are collocated with airport control towers.

Airport Surveillance Radar
Airport surveillance radar (ASR) provides relatively short-range coverage within about 40 miles of an airport and assists "approach control" in handling terminal traffic. It also can be used as an instrument approach aid. In addition, precision approach radar (PAR) is available at some locations to allow controllers to guide an airplane to a landing under instrument weather conditions in place of on-board approach navigation equipment.

Air Route Surveillance Radar
Air route surveillance radar (ARSR) is a system of remotely located, long-range radar that primarily provides a display of aircraft locations over large areas to air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs or centers).

Flight Service Stations
Flight service stations (FSS) provide pilot weather briefings. They also handle en route communications and initiate search and rescue procedures for overdue aircraft operating under visual flight rules (VFR). They assist lost aircraft and aircraft in emergency situations; relay ATC clearances; broadcast weather and airspace information; receive and process flight plans; and monitor navigational aids. There are 74 flight service stations in the United States.

Radar is air traffic control’s (ATC’s) primary surveillance system, comprising airport surveillance radar (ASR) and air route surveillance radar (ARSR). Radar is used primarily in sequencing and spacing aircraft and can be used independently or in combination with other navigational aids.

Air Route Traffic Control Centers
Air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs or centers) primarily serve aircraft operating on instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plans within controlled airspace, principally during the en route phase of flight. There are 21 centers in the United States.

Types of Controllers There are five basic types of air traffic controllers. Many air traffic controllers are trained and certified to work in multiple capacities.

  • Ground Controllers
    Ground controllers direct aircraft that are moving on the ground, using the taxiways and parking ramps of airports.

  • Tower Controllers
    Tower controllers direct aircraft that are taking off or landing at airports.

  • Departure Controllers
    Departure controllers handle aircraft that have already taken off but are transitioning from the airspace around or near an airport to the en route portion of their flights.

  • Approach Controllers
    Approach controllers handle aircraft that are transitioning from the en route portion of flight into the airspace around or near an airport.

  • Enroute Controllers
    En route controllers handle aircraft that are operating on the main travel portion of their flights, typically at an altitude of 6,000 feet mean sea level (msl) or greater.

Flight Plans
One common misconception is that every aircraft issue a flight plan before it flies. Flight plans are not required for flights conducted under visual flight rules (VFR), in which pilots navigate using references on the ground. Most non-commercial flights take place without one. Just as when you use your car in daily life, pilots can take off and land at the vast majority of airports by using simple, pre-defined procedures, broadcasting their intentions over the radio so that they can coordinate their actions with other pilots in the area, using standardized traffic patterns, and complying with applicable Federal Aviation Regulations.

VFR Flight Plans
If a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan is filed, it has no air traffic control (ATC) significance. It’s filed with ATC before the flight to facilitate the rescue of pilots and passengers in the very rare instance that the aircraft goes missing. Among other things, the VFR flight plan tells ATC what type of aircraft will be used and what colours it is, how much fuel is on board (expressed in hours and minutes of endurance), how many people are on board, the intended route and altitude of the flight, the anticipated time of departure, and the anticipated time en route (how long the flight will last).

How the VFR Flight Plan is Used
Once airborne, the pilot activates the flight plan by calling air traffic control (ATC) and telling them what time the flight actually took off. This starts a timer in the ATC system. When the pilot lands, he or she contacts ATC to tell them that they have arrived safely at the destination. ATC then "closes" the flight plan. If the pilot has not arrived and closed his flight plan within 30 minutes of his proposed arrival time, ATC will start calling by telephone to see if the flight has arrived. They may also contact other ATC facilities along the planned route of flight. Information in the VFR flight plan lets ATC know the maximum amount of time the aircraft could have stayed aloft based upon the fuel on board when it departed. If, after a certain amount of time has passed, no one can locate the pilot or the aircraft, then ATC will launch a search and rescue operation using the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), which in turn will use the Civil Air Patrol and/or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to look for the overdue aircraft. Aircraft from the search team will retrace the intended route of flight, looking for the overdue aircraft. Information in the VFR flight plan lets searchers know what kind and color aircraft they are looking for and how many people were on board.

IFR Flight Plans
Instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plans contain the same information as visual flight rules (VFR) flight plans. However, IFR flight plans are used by air traffic control (ATC) to reserve the time and location of use for any airspace needed by the aircraft operating under IFR. The airspace needed by the IFR flight will be used exclusively by that aircraft from the time of takeoff until it has landed. Based upon the intended route of flight, pilots will be issued an IFR "clearance" to operate. In case of radio failure during the IFR flight, pilots will follow the exact route in the IFR clearance, and ATC will anticipate their path, altitudes, and times along the route based upon a combination of the IFR flight plan and the IFR clearance issued by ATC to the pilot. IFR flight plans can also trigger search and rescue operations if needed.

©2007-2015 Robert Cezar and Pacific Feelings Media.