NATCA Employees Fly Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Friday, February 24, 2012

Sarah Dunn

Hillary Stroud

In July 2011, Atlanta Center (ZTL) implemented “Adopt-a-Pilot,” a program allowing Delta pilot instructors to visit ZTL for a day and experience what an air traffic controller experiences on a day-to-day basis. The program, developed in collaboration by the NATCA ZTL Safety Council and ZTL facility management, has been a huge success. NATCA is excited to have received a commitment from Delta to allow current NATCA radar developmentals and new Certified Professional Controllers (CPCs) to participate in Delta pilot simulation training as jump-seat observers.

Delta has been so thrilled by its collaboration with NATCA that they invited two NATCA National Office employees to stop by the Delta Headquarters in Atlanta during NATCA’s Communicating for Safety conference to try out a flight simulator.

NATCA Communications Department staff Sarah Dunn and Hillary Stroud each took a turn in the pilot’s seat of a Boeing 767 simulator with the assistance of Delta flight instructor Bill Van’t Wout, a Delta pilot of 27 years. Van’t Wout retired in 2004 and in 2007 Delta hired him as Non Seniority List Instructor for the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767.

Dunn and Stroud each simulated a flight from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), flying under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz to land at SFO, first by autopilot and then by manual procedures.

Dunn remarked that, having no experience as an air traffic controller or pilot, she didn’t realize how many people are involved in one flight. Working for NATCA has opened her eyes to a controller’s side of a flight and the simulator experience opened her eyes to a pilot’s side. She said it is great to now know what goes on in the cockpit during a flight, such as the altitudes at which the autopilot is turned on and off, the instruments that are used to make the plane change headings and the different ATC facilities the pilots are working with at certain altitudes.

“It was really fun and fascinating, but also nerve-wracking,” said Dunn. “The visuals and movements in the simulator looked and felt real. It was an incredible experience.”

Stroud said the most interesting thing she learned was that there are two different ways of steering the plane. The first involves maneuvering the plane while in the air with the wheel that sits in front of the seat. The other way uses two pedals at the foot of the seat to move left and right while the plane is on the ground. The steering wheel is not used in these instances and your hands are free by your side. She also mentioned how extremely intimidating it was when she first stepped in the simulator.

“When I walked inside the simulated aircraft, I had no idea what to expect,” Stroud said. “There were so many buttons and knobs, I thought surely we’re not expected to learn what all these do. But then we started ‘flying’ around the San Francisco area, it was much easier than I expected, not to say I would pick up flying an airplane anytime soon.”

Delta has controllers participating in simulator sessions every week and enthusiastically invites anyone interested in participating to contact them for further information.