We had an AMA “Ask Me Anything” with Tyler Shelton this Saturday in the ATC Education Group Workshop, where our members in the Workshop got to ask Tyler questions. I was going to give you just a best of questions and answers, but it’s too good to leave out some of these so here’s a full transcript.
Tyler is the Infinite Flight ATC Manager and a full time real-world Air Traffic Controller.
Have you ever dreamed to become an ATC or you did you just start working and fell in love with your job after that?
ATC wasn’t a dream of mine, nor was aviation in general growing up. I actually studied music on college after going to an arts school for 6th-12th grade. I traveled, recorded on many records, and eventually went to Florida State University for Jazz Performance and composition. After realizing it’s near impossible to work full-time and give 100% in college I changed gears and went to the police academy. Sadly I couldn’t get hired anywhere because they only wanted officers with prior experience. I then turned to the Air Force and did my research to see which job transferred most to the outside world. I was hooked from day one!
What makes a radar controller a good controller in Infinite Flight, is it the plan that they make before the session, or being calm under the stress, or even being flexible and being able to change planes while controlling, if the original plan didn’t work?
I think having a plan and the ability to adapt real-time makes a good radar controller. Being able to visualize where each aircraft will end up is key, but also takes a good bit of experience along with trial and error.
Is there any chance, even if it was 1%, that you would visit Kuwait?
I’ve visited Kuwait twice actually, both times on a deployment. Exactly one year ago today I was there as well.
Have you ever encountered a situation on the job as a controller in the real world and remembered how it was managed in Infinite Flight?
To some degree, yes. I think one of the biggest aspects I take away from Infinite Flight and apply to real world controlling is compassion and the understanding that everyone is learning all the time. It’s easy to grill someone because they didn’t do exactly what you had in mind. My solution is always to give the tower number, let them call, and have some good two-way feedback to help them and help me.
Have you ever had to deal with an emergency while controlling?
Absolutely! They varied quite a bit between my military and civilian controlling experience. Purely by the nature of military aircraft with their speed, tendencies to be low level, and munitions on board, we commonly had bird strikes and faulty weapon systems requiring precautionary landings.
As for the civilian airport, I’ve had a Cessna go off the runway on many occasions, random aircraft call up asking to land and requesting an ambulance for a sick pax, or a blown tire on landing. The key is staying calm, assisting as much as you can, and clearing the way for them!
Do you rotate stations when controlling — if so, what is your favourite position?
This actually depends quite a bit based on facility and manning. In the Air Force I was tower only so I’d switch between Local (tower), ground, flight data, and Watch Supervisor.
At Goodyear (KGYR) we often had very little manning so I’d commonly work Tower, ground, clearance, flight data, and supervisor all at once by myself for sometimes 8 hours. You sure learn a lot about prioritizing and knowing your limits!
My next facility that I start at soon will be an “up/down” which means I can work all Tower and Approach positions in the same day. Talk about diversity!
My favorite position is definitely Tower (local). The busier the better! I always think it closely mimics the rush of an extreme sport where you get that adrenaline dump and high!
Do you see any similarities between Infinite Flight controller’s skillset and a real word controller’s skillset?
The skills required definitely transfer between Infinite Flight and Real World. The big difference I see is that there is some real emotions in real life that come with major consequences. When it’s busy, things are nearly out of hand, and you’re just getting swamped by yourself it can be a bit scary to know that you’ve got a lot of lives in your hand and they’re all counting on your expertise to get on the ground safe.
What is your next big goal you have for the IFATC?
My next big goal for IFATC is seeing us adopt a Clearance Delivery system with more control over our arrivals, departures, and routing to offer a more realistic experience and a flow of traffic that is far more manageable. I’ll be working with Laura [Laban] to ensure it happens!
I’m currently considering my career options and based on my results so far in school I’m confident I could go for Airline Pilot, Civilian ATC or ATC for the Royal Australian Air Force. Having experienced both military and civilian ATC, which do you think is better and why?
Really good question! As for which route you take, that’s definitely a decision that only you can make. That’s a tough one! For me, if ATC weren’t a possibility I’d be pursuing flying. For any avgeek I’m sure we can agree that the other is the next best thing.
Onto the question… I’ve enjoyed my time as a civilian controller soooo much more. The diversity, volume of traffic, more manual nature of ATC, and general day-to-day pace is so much more enjoyable. I always considered the military to be quite stressful, and maybe it was at the time, but in comparison looking back that traffic was absolutely nothing compared to what we work now and often times the aircraft are adhering to such strict procedures that everything is the expected. Same arrival routes, speeds, altitudes, and procedures to the point where there isn’t much conflict to resolve.
What ways, if any, are there to begin a career in air traffic controlling if your over 40.
Unfortunately the FAA does have a maximum age for applicants. I do believe it is 36. That said, there are many contract companies like Midwest, RVA, and Serco (company I just worked for) that have ATC opportunities with far less requirements. If you want it, there’s always a way and it’s not too late!
From the perspective of a real-world air traffic controller, what are some things you would like to see added/changed/improved to the whole system of ATC in Infinite Flight?
As a whole I’d love to see intrafacility coordination, clearance delivery, and automation features.
Those three in general are massive aspects of real life controlling that I use daily to get the job done efficiently. Intrafacility coordination could be a push to talk intercom feature that allows us to communicate in app between controllers for things like information, hand offs, and requests.
Clearance Delivery ensures routing is correct for runway in use, clear of arrival/departure routes, and flows with others.
Automation features would allow us to select handoff on a target, it flashes on the receiving controllers screen, they tap to accept the handoff, then radio comms are transferred. Little things like this in real life really cut down on the amount of voice comms required and gives us a chance to focus on our frequency and aircraft.
Is being an air traffic controller one of the most stressful jobs in the world according to research, how do you cope with that?
I think the stress is a bit exaggerated. Some days are worse than others, but I don’t find it to be crippling day in and day out to be quite honest! A big key for me is exercise, ensuring you take time for priorities like family, hobbies, or general relaxation. I can’t say I’m most qualified to answer that since I work two jobs, probably don’t sleep enough, and drink too much coffee!
How long you have been with Infinite Flight?
I’ve been with Infinite Flight for 6 years now.. my roles have definitely changed quite a bit over the years, from ATC, to Social Media, to Support, to Pilot Tutorials, and everything in between!
How much you do you love ATC and aviation?
I honestly just love my job though. There is such satisfaction from perfecting your craft and learning new tricks to continuously increase your threshold for traffic tolerance. Hard to describe, but it truly never gets old. Aviation in general has consumed me and I often find myself at airports on my days off for spotting… as if I don’t see enough from the tower.
Are you going to a different facility after working for KMDT for a few years?
I’m not quite sure what’s next. MDT is my first facility in the FAA, it’ll be my first approach certification, and I certainly won’t be in any rush to leave. I’d love to move around as little as possible, so I’m fine staying there until I can make my transfer to the dream facility which is Charlotte (CLT).
What’s your greatest regret?
My biggest regret without a doubt is not finishing my pilot’s license. I had a really unfortunate experience with the check ride.. essentially an examiner who failed about 7 people in a row, all in an effort to get their money, and all for reasons unrelated to material expected with a PPL. I let that discourage me, life happened, I got busy, and never revisited it. Once settled and done with my new facility’s training I hope to tackle it again and make some time for me.
What makes your interactions both here and/or in the real world aviation-wise truly meaningful?
The most meaningful part of what I do here and in real life is the ability to share my passion and create memories for people. ATC is no easy career field to make your way into, whether due to age, location, or any number of circumstances. My hope with Infinite Flight is to provide that experience, rush, and knowledge as an outlet for people to experience a career that they may not otherwise be able to. As for the real world aspect, my goal is usually to be part of a positive learning moment for pilots. Most pilots who fly long enough have those early stories they tell. If I can be the one that helped educate them rather than run them away from a hobby they had passion for or a career they were trying to pursue then I’ve done my job.
What’s the best part about working for Infinite Flight?
The best part for me is watching the community grow and get excited about the things we’re doing. When I say there is a lot in the works, I mean there is a lot. Each dev has their own little projects and they eventually merge into the app, get tasted, and land on your device. Seeing that hard work pay off and get you even closer to the real deal is super rewarding for us!
What aspects of real-world traffic control would you like it to have the current Infinite Flight system? In terms of screens layout etc.
Interestingly, Infinite Flight is way more advanced than real world systems used from a visual perspective. We offer far more visual cues, markings, data about aircraft, and more. The biggest aspect that is missing is the intrafacility communication. We constantly use lines to communicate with our approach for hand-offs, relaying information, and making requests. I’d love for us to have a push-to-talk intercom feature that allows controllers to communicate in app.
My question is more crafted towards ATC in general. We all know there is an ATC shortage as we speak, and this means a lot of people are bound to be interested in filling retiring roles. What would you say is the most cost effective, efficient way to join the ranks of the FAA and the ATC Team?
They’ve definitely got their hands full trying to fill those positions. Since I just finished the FAA hiring process and signed my life away I can absolutely say that they need to make the whole hiring process a bit more streamlined to expedite it from start to finish. The application is so painfully specific, the appointments and requirements are cumbersome (medical eval, psych eval, drug test, etc), and there truly is no set timeline for anything. For many of the tests I had to complete, I had already completed them in the military or for the contract company I was working for but they didn’t accept them. This meant that less than 90 days after doing a drug test, physical, and background check I had to do the exact same thing at the same test locations here in Phoenix all over again for the FAA.
What was the core reason you joined Infinite Flight (as a user), way back when?
I was just beginning ATC at my first base and wanted to check out flight sims as I trying to explore aviation and satisfy that curiosity of my new career. I first downloaded and deleted just a few days later after being so frustrated by the B747 landing mission. I deployed to the middle east a few months later, downloaded it again, got quite active, joined beta, then helped create the ATC aspect of the app which eventually led to me being hired.
At the moment there’s quite a lack of third part applications for the ATC side of things, with the new API being released soon. What hat is something you’d like to see from a third party application that isn’t necessarily possible or high on the (metaphorical?) priority list in terms of ATC?
Good question! I’m not a dev by any means so I have no clue what is or isn’t possible, but a way to easily communicate would be amazing. Perhaps an intercom app that runs in the background that allows controllers to communicate via voice, complete automated handoffs, and share information in real-time would go a long ways. Communicating via text on Slack certainly isn’t ideal and can be quite distracting!
I’d like to thank Tyler for taking the time out of his evening to answer all of our questions. Really great questions and in-depth answers.
If you’d like to join in discussions such as this with like-minded people like yourself and experts in the field, to learn and improve, I’d encourage you to sign up for our Workshop.