Wednesday, February 13, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- February 13

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Feb 13, 1990: The Direct User Access Terminal Service (DUATS) began operating, allowing private pilots to receive weather briefings and file flight plans from home computers. An FAA contractor provided the service free to civilian pilots and students. DUATS took over most of the functions of the Interim Voice Response System (IVRS), which FAA discontinued on Sep 30, 1990. (See Mar 14, 1984.) “

I find it interesting how events seem to group themselves into categories on certain dates. There hasn’t been much to choose from in the last few days of the FAA’s history -- at least as far as ATC goes -- but suddenly, there are several technical projects listed. Direct User Access Terminal Service is probably one of the more successful projects the FAA has ever funded. At least from a pilot’s perspective.

From a controller’s perspective, this was probably the best program ever.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Feb 13, 1973: Ceremonies at the Memphis Air Traffic Control Center celebrated the center’s switch over to computer processing of flight-plan data, completing Phase One of the NAS En Route Stage A, FAA's decade-long program to automate and computerize the nation's en route air traffic control system (see Sep 26, 1964). With the new computer installation at Memphis, all twenty ARTCCs in the contiguous 48 states gained an automatic capability to collect and distribute information about each aircraft's course and altitude to all the sector controllers along its flight path. Pilots still had to file flight plans at flight service stations and military operations offices, but now computers would handle the centers' "bookkeeping functions" of assigning and printing out controller flight strips. The new computers also had the ability to record and distribute any changes registered in aircraft flight plans en route. The system eventually tied in with the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS III) units then being installed at major airports (see Oct 4, 1971 and Feb 15, 1973). Phase Two of the en route automation program was still under way; it would provide controllers at the twenty centers with new radar displays that would show such vital flight information as altitude and speed directly on the screen. (See Feb 18, 1970 and Jun 14, 1973.) “

Prior to Flight Data Processing (FDP), controllers had to manually prepare and calculate the times on Flight Progress Strips. In other words, they had to hand-write a strip for each sector, calculate the time between each fix/navigation aid (which varied according to the speed of each flight) and then “run” the strips to the appropriate sector.

And for you young guys, the calculations were done on a “whiz wheel” -- better known as an E6B.

No one misses the laborious processes computers have taken over for humans. What we do miss is the in-depth knowledge of the system that these processes gave the operators. For another look at the same phenomenon, albeit from a different angle, take a look at this fine piece at the blog JetWhine.

Don Brown
February 13, 2008

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