Sanctuary of Lies Excerpt
Monday 7:30 a.m., Orlando
AUCTIONEER: Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Sanctuary. The first item up for auction is the latest software from Safe Haven, Houdini. As you know, whoever controls the skies can effectively hold a country hostage within its own borders. Houdini accomplishes that goal. Planes go through five phases: The tower gets them to the runway, at that time the plane is visible to those directing the plane at the airport. It’s then handed off to the nearest Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities or “TRACON” for those of you who are familiar with this process and goes into phase two. In phase two, TRACON can’t see the plane. As the name suggests it’s directing the plane via radar screens. Once the plane gets off the ground and is on the flight path it goes into phase three and handed off to center. Center gets the plane within range of the receiving TRACON and when TRACON accepts the hand off phase four begins. The receiving TRACON hands it off to receiving Tower and that is the final phase.
Houdini should be used during phase two or phase four for maximum effect. We’ve arranged a demonstration during phase four, so you can see Houdini in action. If you will look at the screens located in the front and the back of the room, we’ll begin.
Today was Marcus’ birthday and he would kill 416 people before lunch.
Marcus swiped his picture id over the white card reader on the wall. He looked at the picture and smiled at his wide grin and short buzz cut. The day he got this job he’d gone to a barber and asked him for a sharp look. The barber was an ex-marine and he delivered the cut of a “real man”. His birthday always made him reminisce over his life.
Marcus worked in the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities otherwise known as TRACON. A 5-year veteran, Marcus welcomed walking into the dark circular room on the fifth floor of the security building. The green flow of radar circles on monitors decorated the circumference of the room. The concentrated chatter of other Air Traffic Controllers guiding planes safely into and out of the surrounding airports served as background hum that welcomed him into the room.
Marcus sat down at his station and nodded to the man next to him and began to review the screen. Five years had taught him patience. He’d start slow and ease into his eight-hour shift. On the upper right of the screen he saw a green blip. Marcus clicked on it and the hand off begins for him to land the plane.
“Approach at 14000 descending to 12000” SW3678
“Southwest 3678 Roger” Marcus said.
As the blip moved closer to the center of the radar Marcus could see the plane heading for the way point Seaview2.
Marcus remembered when he had started his dream job and the trainer had said let’s talk about circles and stars. At first Marcus had thought he was crazy and that’s why he’s retiring but later on he treasured all of the words of his mentor. He’d told him “When you see a circle that’s a VOR and it’s a real radar on the ground. The VOR’s (VHF omnidirectional radar) correlated to physical equipment on the ground. When you see a star it’s a waypoint that a logical point, and you’ll be using them to help land the plane. Remember logical is code for not real. We have the stars in between VOR’s so we can guide the planes with more precision.” That day when he went home, and his kids had asked him what did he do, he said “Daddy played with circles and stars on a screen and landed a plane.”
Now the VOR’s were being slowly phased out since FAA, (Federal Aviation Administration) mandated the use of the new ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcasting) protocols.
ADBS Protocol would bring the planes in more efficiently. Marcus wasn’t sure he bought into the FAA and their new protocol. The rumor was first FAA would make VOR’s obsolete and then they would begin to do the same thing with Air Traffic Controllers. When the FAA guy had come to TRACON he said some fancy mumbo “they would begin working with the Air Traffic Controllers, on Limiting human intervention” for their sake of course.
SEAVIEW2 is a standard terminal arrival route. The plane was coming in from the east. Marcus just needed to guide it to PARADISE VOR then to the LAHAB way point and finally the gate waypoint which would put them on an ILSs approach. He’d done it a thousand times.
The plane was at 14000 feet and going 310 knots. He’d slow it down and bring her in. Marcus wanted the plane to come in as quickly as possible. He scanned the radar and saw there were two more planes coming in from the North and West, but he had some time. The planes were on the outer edge of the radar.
“Southwest 3678 proceed to PARADISE.”
Reply: Proceed to PARADISE 3678
Looking at the other two arrivals Marcus thought about which path to put them on. Returning to the blip he was working with he sent his next set of instructions.
“Southwest 3678 begin descent to one one thousand.”
Reply: begin descent to one one thousand southwest 3678
“Southwest 3678 proceed direct to LAHAB”
Reply: Proceed direct to LAHAB southwest 3678
Marcus looked at the arriving flights from the north west and then back at the incoming flight from the east.
The blip was gone.
“Southwest 3678 repeat” Marcus said.
Reply: Proceed direct to LAHAB southwest 3678
The blip was gone. The pilot was still talking but the blip was gone.
“Where is it?” Marcus murmured.
Marcus’s supervisor came over and touched him on his shoulder.
“Marcus?” the supervisor asked.
“Southwest 3678 is gone.”
“What?” the supervisor replied.
Out of habit Marcus took the handoff from a plane in the south.
Reply: approach Pan16 at 7000 descending to 6000
“Roger Pan 16”
Marcus didn’t turn. “You heard SouthWest’s reply but it’s not on the radar.”
“Southwest 3678 descend to 9000”
“What are you telling him to move for if you can’t see it?”, the supervisor demanded.
“I can slow the plane, when it falls below 10000 then the plane will go from the 310 knots, to 250 knots. At 250 knots the plane is moving about 4 miles a minute. That I can estimate their location at least.”
“Southwest 3678 turn right heading 270 descend and maintain 7000”
Reply: turn right heading 270 descend and maintain 7000 southwest 3678
“Pan 16 proceed direct to SEAL BEACH”
“What did you hit! Where is the plane?” the supervisor said frantically, hovering over Marcus’s shoulder.
When Marcus looked at the screen where there was once no blip there were now four and all of them were labeled SW3678.
“Southwest 3678 descend and maintain 5000”
“What are you doing? There’re already at 5000” the supervisor yelled.
Marcus ignored the supervisor and concentrated on the task at hand. Two planes coming in from the northwest, one coming from the south and southwest 3678.
His supervisor called the man next to him, “Jim take the hand off in the northwest and Paul take Pan 16 in south”.
“Southwest 3678 cleared ILS 25 left approach”
Marcus wiped the sweat from his brow as he watched all 4 blips approach runway 25L.
“Southwest 3678 are you on the frequency?”
There was nothing but crackle.
“Southwest 3678 contact the tower.”
The blips started to ascend on the approach.
“No, no” Marcus whispered. Just like it started, the plane began its descent and there was only one blip on the screen for flight 3678.
“It’s coming in too fast.” Marcus murmured. Then the sounds of SouthWest came back on and all they could hear were the cries of help from the aircraft.
Marcus didn’t think “emergency vehicles to 25L, everyone calling standby”
AUCTIONEER: As you can see Houdini work. We’ll start the bidding at 45 million.
Headlines from the evening paper:
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER CLAIMS SYSTEM MALFUNCTION, 416 DEAD