William Blake had it right

Sun, Cirrus, and fog aglow

Sun, cirrus, and fog aglow

As Valentine’s Day slipped toward Valentine’s Night, is it any wonder that poetry should be sought as blissful abandon?

The sun descending in the west,

Last light begins Valentine's Night

Last light begins Valentine’s Night

The evening star does shine;

The birds are silent in their nest

And I must seek for mine.

Morning moonset

Morning moonset

The moon, like a flower

The moon in a cirrus gauze

The moon in a cirrus gauze

In heaven’s high bower,

The moon and thin cirrus over the Pacific

The moon and thin cirrus over the Pacific

With silent delight

Pelicans on the wing, as the moon drifts into dawn

Pelicans on the wing, as the moon drifts into dawn

Sits and smiles on the night.

William Blake, 1757—1827

SOCAL TRACON (SCT)

SOCAL TRACON,” translated, means Southern California Terminal Radar Control—the FAA’s air traffic control facility handling the lower 13,000-17,000′ of airspace from offshore in the west to the beginnings of the California deserts in the east, and, up north, demarcated by a west-east line from around Pt. Dume to Palm Springs, and, in the south, by the border with Mexico.   Air traffic control comes in many levels in this country—from an airman’s perspective it is never less than pilots, themselves, controlling the operation of their ships so as to see and avoid other aircraft, terrain, or obstacles, whether at non-towered airports, or en route.  For FAA controllers, Job One is assuring that two aircraft do not occupy the same parcel of airspace at the same time.  This is accomplished with a tapestry that involves controllers at airports who issue clearances and guidance for surface and traffic pattern operations, with the responsibility for control of aircraft separation being “handed off” by them to what are collectively known as departure/approach control facilities, more technically known as TRACONs.  When their craft proceed far enough laterally or vertically, TRACONs hand off ATC responsibility to (en route) Air Route Traffic Control Centers covering wide multi state sized parcels of airspace.  As aircraft eventually near their destinations and begin descent for landing, the process is reversed from Center to TRACON to control tower.

The SOCAL TRACON is housed in a capacious facility abutting the NE corner of Miramar MCAS.   It is built with an intriguing steel exoskeleton rising vertically out of the ground along the sides of the building and then passing horizontally through the ceiling of the structure, designed to survive a Richter Scale 9.0 quake centered directly under the facility.    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=610093519043834&set=a.595970633789456.1073741826.112145808838610&type=1&theater  Radar antennae throughout Southern California provide the returns visually depicting the controlled aircraft on 48 subregion-specific t.v.-like screens that are individual controller’s workstations, with an additional 16 display workstations in a separate room used for training, and available as backup.  Communication links are provided by over 550 fiberoptic cables.  Redundancy is ever important in aircraft and the control thereof.  That said, the TRACON was evacuated a few years back when one of our large autumn wildfires burned to near the facility property line—yet the evacuation wasn’t caused by the flames, but because they couldn’t properly filter the smoke being ingested into the air inlets for the air conditioning needed to keep the electronics cool.  Apparently that weak link has yet to be addressed for future fires or terrorist attack.  As to the latter, the facility has a double perimeter barrier and a guard shack, and access, such as with my tour, is controlled by invitation, verification, and identification.

The facility tour was conducted by Robert M., a veteran controller, who had begun his career at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center located at Palmdale, and handling the traffic over all of the SW United States—the handoff facility from and to the SOCAL TRACON.  He provided an overview of the ATC concept as well as short vignettes about experiences from memory, usually relative to whoops moments and intended to exemplify a point or to lighten the mood with a little black humor.  Such as a pilot congesting a control sector’s one-at-a-time ATC communications frequency with a lame request that took 27 seconds to complete—an inflight eternity—while he and another airplane were headed directly at one another at the same altitude.  You can guess the points Robert was making, no doubt.  A salient tidbit conveyed is the level of traffic the SCT handles.  The second bullet point in the slide below screams a hint at why it is so demanding for aviators and controllers in this area—the SCT is not only the busiest ATC facility in the world, but, in fact is busier than the ATC facilities of the seven busiest countries in Europe—combined.  For the non-pilots amongst you, the alphabet soup of airspace (Class B, Class C, Class D—control towers—and TRSAs) classification includes requirements for pilot certification, aircraft equipment, communications and ATC clearance, and cloud separation and visibility specifics.  It is a 3D puzzle of situational awareness, with a priori pilot/equipment givens and demarcations having to be visualized in one’s head while underway, hopefully with the aid of onboard equipment displays, charts, and looking out the window for geographic clues.

SCT statistics

SCT statistics

SOCAL traffic flow routes

SOCAL traffic flow routes

The traffic flows within the Southern California airspace are a complex web of aerodrome arrival and departure pathways.  The colors on the slide Robert is describing above represent various individual airport’s pathways—LAX, SAN, ONT, BUR, and so on, most of which you may actually know even if only from your airline ticket.

Having been an end-user of the ATC product for the past half century, I already knew most of what was conveyed during the SOCAL TRACON tour, provided to pilots as educational outreach.  For me, this was a refresher chance to see what the controllers’ workplace is currently like, to see what upgrades their equipment have taken since the last such visit a couple of decades back, and perchance to trade favors and share the pilots’ perspective on the service they provide.  Fewer than 15% of the SOCAL TRACON controllers are also certificated pilots, which has been motivation for me over the past few years to offer up FAM (Familiarization) flights in the Cirrus to both tower and TRACON controllers.  These days the controllers’ work interface is a bit more electronic, reflecting the digital age in which we all meander.  A controller’s workstation has a large, configurable screen showing traffic underway, and capable of displaying airways and waypoints in the sky, terrain, and minimum vectoring altitudes for terrain avoidance.  The image below shows distance rings from the primary airport in this particular ATC sector, here I think it is Burbank (BUR).  Traffic is depicted by tiny moving blips on the screen, each with a bright green information code that is electronically paired with the aircraft’s transponder or primary skin-paint radar return.  Unseen, here, the aircraft blip leaves behind it a ghostly blue wake, the length of which is an analog depiction of its relative groundspeed, which speed is also conveyed digitally in the paired tag, along with call sign, altitude, and destination.  As desired, the controller can also turn on or off a blue headlight-like beam that shows a given aircraft’s forward extended ground track the controller’s vector of the aircraft is producing, given the aircraft’s airspeed and the effect of winds aloft.  If several of these were simultaneously selected “on” by the controller it would look like a group of Jedi Knights’ light sabers doing battle across the SOCAL sky!  As I say, Job One, is keeping aircraft separated, and the vector track beams can help in times when that is needed beyond the controller’s experience-based intuition.  There’s a keyboard for inputing information, and an orange-sized black roller ball that allows moving a screen cursor to an aircraft’s blip for tagging that info input.  I suppose I should mention that each controller wears a headset for two-way radio communication with aircraft underway on a discrete frequency specific to his/her given air traffic sector.  Controllers still use small paper strips conveying additional aircraft information, that runners in the room bring physically to workstations appropriate to the information—here you can see one such white strip folded in half.  And, oh, the screen is also capable of overlaying precipitation returns, important because turbulence is directly correspondent to rates of precipitation.  Worthy of note, TRACON weather displays are in real time from the actual antenna sweeps also producing the aircraft returns.  The TRACON radar’s RF energy wavelength is designed principally for aircraft observation,  but still does a tolerable job of conveying precipitation intensity in real time.  Not so, the weather returns displayed on the ARTCC monitors, which aren’t directly from the Center’s radar antennae.  Like the satellite-linked weather displays in my Cirrus, the ARTCC precipitation displays are algorithm-manufactured composite digital depictions of what the National Weather Bureau’s separate weather radar is showing—with a lag of up to six minutes.  In rapidly moving and changing weather this is about twelve of those in-flight eternities.  As verbalized by the Hill Street Blues shift sergeant—”let’s all be careful out there,” lest those figurative eternities become literal.  Ahem.

Controller workstation

Controller workstation

In the image below Robert is pointing out one tidbit on the screen.  The trapezoidal shapes depict various ATC sectors as seen from above.  There are a few aircraft with their information tags shown near the top of the screen.  As it turns out these three images were all taken in their training room, an exact replication of the real control area just the other side of the adjoining wall.  Here pictures were allowed, while, for reasons unclear to me, they were not in the room next door.  Both places are hushed areas, in near darkness apparently so that the screens can be seen more readily.  To be honest, I wonder about that, given the current technological ability to make LED LCD screens bright enough for daylight viewing.  I wonder if this is a holdover from the days that screens were dim monochromatic affairs, and the government, being slow to change, as we all know, still keeps it’s controllers literally in the dark.

Controller monitor

Controller monitor

I know that if I am in flight, it is fairly frequent for controllers to enquire as to what sort of day it is out there, as they are huddled in their dark tomb, with no direct sense of the weather in the area where they are controlling traffic.  Perhaps the darkness is intended to keep controllers’ minds on the job?  Of that I can only guess, but I know that controllers are busy, dedicated professionals, and fully capable of giving their task the undivided attention it calls for.

Empire airports ATIS weather runway information

Empire airports ATIS weather & runway information

This is not to say that an air traffic controller is bereft of reliable information about the airspace.  Adjacent to each work station there are other displays of ancillary information such as this, showing what airports in the individual controller’s sector have as weather, what approaches and departures are in use, traffic flow delays, outages and unavailable procedures.  For instance ONTario Information “A” generated at 2053Z (8:53 PM Greenwich Universal Time—the time standard for everything aviation) is showing calm winds, 10 statute miles visibility, with multiple layers of broken clouds, a temperature of 15 Celsius (59 F) and a barometer of 30.13″ Hg, where runway 26 Right is closed, and with ILS approaches in progress to runway 26 Left, etc..  Seeing this and knowing the sepulchral workplace of controllers toiling in the dark generates a whimsical recollection from my air carrier days, where we frequently operated blind within clouds in areas of thunderstorm activity.  We relied upon our onboard weather radar to keep us clear of the heaviest precipitation and coincident turbulence nastiness.  Now and again we might pop out into the clear, and appreciated a quick visual scan of the bubbling cumulonimbus around us, routinely allowing as to how “one peek is worth a thousand sweeps” of our onboard radar’s ceaseless back and forth beam emanations.  Gallows humor.

Which is modest segue into reflections ending this missive.  Not unlike the practice of modern medicine, aviating or traffic-controlling of aircraft is several measures of art combined with science.  In all three fields there is growing reliance and enhancement of what is known, by often digital electronic magic.  But successful application of a practitioner’s skill set is a balancing of knowledge, experience, data, situational awareness, and a nuanced intuitional synthesis.  The tools available are terrific, but it still comes down to the massaging, interpreting and acting upon the entire panoply of information being integrated in that three pounds of gray matter between a specific individual’s temples.  It’s an imperfect world, but the ballet of aircraft control works with remarkable success, with the TRACON personnel doing their professional best to facilitate safety and the efficient minimally-impeded flow of traffic in a complex dynamic environment.  My hat goes off to them.

Wintertime along the shore

The end of January '14, take one

The end of January ’14, take one

As you likely know, I am taken with sunsets and sunrises.  Around here, in Del Mar, the best of those are in the winter.  January ended and February began with some nice, but not extravagant sunsets worth savoring.  This is a panorama, composed of four separate images hinting at the effectively 180 degree scope of the view from the cliff top bluff, from La Jolla on the far left, to just shy of the view all the way to Orange County on the right.

17:21 January 31, 2014

17:21 January 31, 2014

The above caption says it all.  Military time.

17:31 January 31, 2014

17:31 January 31, 2014

This caption says as much as that for the previous image, and more.  It turns out that the sun dipping below the horizon is a nice moment in time, and is when the occasional green flash can be seen.  But the real light show begins just about ten minutes after the sun goes down.  It requires some high cirrus or alto clouds, and enough cloud gap right at the horizon for the light to stream up and highlight the upper level clouds in hues that begin with gold and peach, and continue through orange, red and magenta.

The end of January '14, take two

The end of January ’14, take two

Now these images were all taken with my G15 while the 5D III was busy capturing a time-lapse sequence.  I’ve begun adding those to these posts, as you know, but am going to try a different tack using Vimeo linked URLs  that will enable you to see the time-lapse in higher resolution, while keeping down the amount of cache taken up on my blog site.  So let’s see if this works and appeals to you.

https://vimeo.com/85769823

You may know that yesterday, the 2nd of February, there was a commercials event accompanied by a football game.  If you are a Denver fan, you may have wished to focus on the commercials.  Anyway, during the halftime show, two of us intrepid Del Martian time-lapsers took the opportunity to see if the afternoon’s buttermilk sky might provide a viable sunset opportunity.  Again, nice , but not off the charts.

Del Mar Superbowl halftime show

Del Mar Superbowl halftime show

And for the time-lapse:    https://vimeo.com/85750580

The shoreside is delightful throughout the day, and that includes the mornings, when all manner of delightful things can be seen.

Everybody rides!

Everybody rides!

Everybody rides is generic surfspeak for a party wave, when everybody out on a particular break rides the same wave.  And there are no better body surfers than dolphins.

Kick out!

Kick out!

And the dolphin, stage right, in the previous image, decided he needed some air time, and launched out of the back of the wave.  Just like human surfers, it was time to exit before the wave closed out on him.

Wave formation

Wave formation

Off the lip

Off the lip

Feathertip flight

Feathertip flight

Ah, the ubiquitous brown pelican, a California staple, having made a successful comeback from threatened species, after the banning of DDT returned sufficient strength to their eggshells enabling a full gestation period. On the ground, possessed of a face and body that only a mother could love.  But in flight, a creature of pure delight.  They have mastered the art of gliding in updrafts and ground effect, as it is known for human pilots.  A peaking, about-to-break wave face provides sufficient updraft to support the pelican on the wing, and between waves they glide no more than an inch off the water, which results in substantial drag reduction and a supportive cushion of air.  They can span miles of shoreline with only the most infrequent flaps between oncoming swells.  And, of course, they are the consummate fishermen and women, diving for fish just beneath the surface and scooping them up in their bill pouches before extending their necks and gulping down their ultra fresh sashimi.

There you have it, another few days in the ‘hood.

Pine needles, bluffs, the sky and the sea

Image

Writers, I am told, are oft counseled to write about what they know.  Sage advice for any creative endeavor.  Subjects, whose beauty calls out for artistic rendering, can be distant, or as closely known as the rough spots on your own skin, or that quirky smile of a loved one.

The Torrey pine tree is native to only two places on earth—the California channel islands, and right here in my backyard, the Torrey Pines Reserve and scattered about my home community of Del Mar.  Once nearly extinct as a species, but now numbering a few thousand specimens, it is a rugged, twisted pine tree reminiscent of a well-sculpted Bonsai, albeit 25 to 50 feet tall, and draped with a unique five-needled foliage grouping.  Its habitat is the sandstone bluffs and canyons of this region, one not known for abundant rainfall.  In response, the Torrey quickly sinks a deep taproot to retrieve water where it can, and also is adept at catching moisture from the coastal sea breezes and fogs.

Our six month-old whippet, Sawyer, takes me for my regular morning and sundown walks along the bluffs, canyons and arroyos, making sure that I get my fresh air and exercise while he explores what the squirrels, birds and other natives are up to.  This is officially our rainy season, but we’ve not seen precipitation in recorded memory.  However, over the past few days the low spots in the bluffs have awoken swathed in soft blankets of gauze-like fog, embracing the Torreys with dew so heavy that it has literally been raining off the pine needles onto the sandy soil beneath the trees, conditions proving fruitful with creative opportunities.

Morning sun diffused through a shallow fog and a Torrey's pine needles, glowing like ET's heart

Morning sun diffused through shallow fog and a Torrey’s pine needles, glowing like ET’s heart

These fogs can be both ephemeral and effervescent, the sort of thing that makes you glad you dragged yourself upright before the day grew long in the tooth, treating us to a fogbow, if you will, like a low-laying rainbow, but where the mists do not refract the light into its component spectra.

A non-spectral fogbow—the mist and a dancing arc of sunlight

A non-spectral fogbow—the mist and a dancing arc of sunlight

Ofttimes it isn’t fog, but just a low marine layer of stratus clouds, what is locally referred to as May Gray or June Gloom conditions.  When the sun starts to burn through, as with this moment, gladdening my heart that I’m not among the weekday road warriors just out of sight down below the ridge rushing off to work.

Morning sun, the jewel in a Torrey pines tiara

Morning sun, the jewel in a Torrey pines tiara

Last fall I vaguely remember the occasional storm passing through, and as in Camelot, where, by decree, the rains must be finished by morning, there was wondrous light beguiling and rewarding our early rising.  And oh, the sweet bouquet  from brushing against the chaparral and scrunching the damp, fallen pine needles beneath our feet—you could actually taste it.

Sunrise through Torreys

Sunrise through Torreys

Painters and photographers love sunup and sundown for the warmth and iridescence of the light.  These times positively insist on the most exorbitant color selection on the palette.  And, of course it is decidedly easier to still be up at sunset than to arise at the first hint of morning light.  This image was taken not fifty yards  away from that above, albeit looking the opposite direction.

Bushwhack a few yards off trail in the Del Mar hills for this bit of solitude

Bushwhack a few yards off trail in the Del Mar hills for this bit of solitude

Okay, as I just remembered this is a single frame lift from a time-lapse, I might as well share the T-L while I’m about it.  This sequence was an experiment on changing the lens’ focal length while underway, my desire being to zoom in on the sun as it dropped below the horizon.  I still like the concept, but clearly need a better method of accomplishing the sought-after effect.  So much to learn.  The music, Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra performed by the inestimable guitarist, composer, poet, neighbor and friend, Celedonio Romero.

All of the above images are from the various Del Mar bluffs and canyons, truly our back yard.  But of course the Torrey Pines Reserve is just a short walk away, and is famous for its rugged cliffs hugging the Pacific shore.  There’s an out and back path off the Broken Hill trail which leads to a promontory with this lovely vista, a fitting way to end one’s day and this missive.

Broken Hills view

Things celestial and flights of fancy

Nature and opportunity, providing a planetary alignment of delightful sensory excess over twenty-four hours on January 15 and 16—embracing the time for two moonrises and a moonset in between.

Mountain moonrise from Del Mar's Torrey Pines ridge

Mountain moonrise from Del Mar’s Torrey Pines ridge

Moon-up on Wednesday evening the 15th.

Then, a quiet gentle moon-down the next morning.

Moonset from the living room deck

Moonset from the living room deck

That Thursday afternoon, embracing the visceral pleasure of taking wing, trike flying with chum Howard in the Anza Borrego desert.  ‘Tis a blessedly breezy affair.  You need elements?  Just extend your hand to your side.

Liftoff

Liftoff

The badlands

The badlands

Low and slow

Low and slow

Sundown's coming

Sundown’s coming

And then, the day over, an hour after sunset, time for another moonrise.  The Cirrus carpet-ride awaiting our return flight to San Diego, posing with the lunar glow as the moon rises over the Santa Rosa mountains and the Bandlands to the east.

Stars, moon glow and the Cirrus

Stars, moon glow and the Cirrus

God does not subtract from man’s allotted time, days spent in blissful giddiness.  My story, and I’m sticking with it.

Arizona Land, Arizona Sky

Cathy, enjoying her SDSU semester break, and finished with all the holiday busyness, implored for a getaway to somewhere, and Lord love her, was wanting to get there via the Cirrus time machine.  We settled on SE Arizona, with the fly-in aerodrome being Libby Army Airfield at Fort Huachuca, where I was stationed for six months before deploying to Viet Nam in the mid sixties.  I hadn’t been back since, and this seemed a perfect destination—high desert, pleasant daytime temperatures with chilly evenings, good hiking and nature emersion, plus generally clear skies for capturing nighttime time-lapse sequences.

Our lodging was a two-bedroom cabin surrounded by tall prairie grass on the western flank of Biscuit Mountain, part of the Whetstone range, some ten miles from equally rural Sonoita, and Elgin, Arizona.  Thunder Mountain Lane gate

Thunder Mountain Lane gate
Terminator twilight

Terminator twilight at Biscuit Mountain

Days were spent hiking and exploring the environs, including trails in the Santa Rita mountains with views back towards the Whetstone and Huachuca ranges.Whetstones & Huachucas

Whetstones & Huachucas
Bear Spring in the Santa Rita mountains

Bear Spring in the Santa Rita mountains

Come the end of the day, and it was time to set up the camera for nighttime time-lapse sequences, using the prairie adjoining our cabin as foreground for the vast panoply of sky.

Sundown—the camera waiting for night time-lapse

Sundown—the camera waiting for night time-lapse

A setting moon in a star-filled Arizona sky

A setting moon in a star-filled Arizona sky

At dawn, the stars rapidly hiding from the sun’s first light, it is worth turning one’s attention to the sunrise of yet another new day’s beauty.

Dawn and our prairie cabin

Dawn and our prairie cabin

Isla Guadalupe White Sharks

Some 200 miles south of San Diego lays Guadalupe Island, justifiably famous as a gathering place for the ocean’s apex predator, the White Shark.  Photo diving is from shark cages, and we were surrounded at times by as many as four mini-van sized whites simultaneously. Stealth technology with teeth, serious teeth.

White shark copy