Jim Brown's Combined Station-Tower History

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Last updated 03/18/17

Personal history written by Jim Brown

This is Jim Brown's personal story of his work experiences, part 2 of 2..
Part 1 -
Interstate Airway Communication Stations (INSACS)

I suppose that the CS/T combination worked well, I found it did, but there came a time when the concept shifted to separate facilities. I think I was in one of the last to decombine.

This happened at the Ontario CS/T at (naturally) Ontario Airport. I was a Watch Supervisory there. The building was adjacent to the terminal parking area with the station on the ground floor and the tower cab (naturally) was on the top floor. (I hope to send a photo in a separate mailing). Both the tower and station were 24 hour operations. The tower had a teletype printer for the weather service circuit, necessary as the tower took some of the weather observations, sky, visibility, obstructions, etc and entered them in for  automatic weather transmission. That added the temperatures, wind and altimeter from an automatic readout system using on field sensors.

The station had air/ground positions (two I seem to recall). Both service A and service B teletypes, and several flight briefing positions. These were necessary because the Ontario station was a “hub” for several small airports, municipal and private in the area. Off the top of my head I recall, Cable, Brackett, Chino, Corona, Riverside, Rialto, and Tri-City. All of these were connected by direct interphone to the Ontario station, and at times pilots were lined up to use them. For most of the daylight hours, this was the case. Ontario needed several copies of all weather reports and the forecasts so they could do multi-briefings. We had not done much briefing in Hawaii and this was my introduction into just how hectic it could get. The pilots were mostly private, although several charter operators also used these briefings. When I went there, I had to check out in all positions including the briefer position. The old timers there had a lot of fun watching me merrily go down the tubes! I finally got the hang of it, became acquainted with the regulars and actually had a good time with this operation. There was very little face to face briefing.

The complement varied with workload conditions, but it was often very crowded in this room. Just beyond the wall was an elevator and stairs leading upward. I cannot recall if there was a restroom at the station level, but there was one on the floor beneath the tower cab. On the way up was an office for the facility Chief, an equipment room, a training room and ready room (which may have been combined). The restroom facilities were the end of the line for the elevator. Having reached this level, one had to open a door onto the metal catwalk that ran around the building. On the third side (the westerly side) of this catwalk was another door leading into the tower cab. Once inside, there was a short flight of steps to the floor of the tower cab. The tower had the usual local control, ground control and flight data positions. It seems to me there was one extra position that could handle some station operations on an overflow basis. It was one busy station.

 The airport was not very busy in those days. There was a small terminal and some airline operations. I recall Western Airlines as being the dominant carrier and I believe Air West had flights as well as some small charter aircraft. There was a large Lockheed plant on the airport, involved in refurbishing C-130s. Another major operation was the Air National Guard. They had a good size base on the opposite (south) side of the field from the tower. When I went there the aircraft were F-86 fighters. These were later replaced by the F-102. This guard operation was a part of NORAD and did actually get an occasional live scramble call. Usually it was one practice scramble in the morning and another in the afternoon. But on Saturday, all the pilots came out and the air was full of National Guard jets. It made for some interesting traffic situations.

 Another interesting operation was the alternate airport. Ontario was the prime alternate for Los Angles. When the fog put LAX below minima, all the airlines came to ONT (at 900 feet it was above most of the fog) At times we handled over 100 LAX flights. The terminal did not have space, they could only unload a few at a time. Airlines sent buses to carry the passengers to Los Angeles, but a few had to use the local hotels. In order to handle this organized mess, we closed the cross runway and parked planes there. We also used all the side areas along the main runway and the National Guard ramp. Flights would be instructed to follow an airport truck to one of the open spaces and then wait until their turn came up in the terminal rotation. Often the small restaurant ran out of food and the bar ran out of alcohol. The next morning brought the exodus. Most aircraft would just ferry over to LAX. A few would have passengers bussed in and load up at Ontario for their scheduled destination.

 Ontario CS/T could be a challenging operation! Because of the situation, vacancies were filled with station option personnel looking to move into towers. They would check out in the FSS and then start tower training. Alas, due to the complexity in the tower, there was (I think) a rather high wash out factor. This gives you probably more background than is necessary, but I seldom know when to stop.

 That brings us up to the actual decombination of the facility. At the time we combined the Maui operation, the CS/T operation made complete sense. But, I suppose that like many good ideas it outgrew itself. By the time we did this in Ontario, both station and tower were probably too busy to be efficient and to make the best use of personnel. With the journeymen specialists we tried to alternate between the top and bottom, four hours of FSS and four hours of Tower. But sometime we had to go 2-2-2-2. With rotating people into tower training, it could mean a lot of elevator time. It had its ups and downs. Then in late 1967 or early 1968, along came the man for the decombining hour – Nick Lambas. Nick transferred to Ontario after several years in the Pacific Region. Back in 1956 or 1957, Congress passed PL737, which applied to all overseas positions. For all I know, it may still be in effect. In effect it meant if you had spent two years overseas and wanted to sign a two year contract, they would give you and your family a trip back to your transfer point on the mainland. If you declined to sign, you could ask for a return to your previous facility or another mainland position. (I had two real great vacations to St. Louis from this law). Nick Lambas had been in the Pacific and his last assignment had been the combined Center/Tower on Wake Island. He then asked for return and was offered a spot at the Ontario CS/T. He had previous FSS experience and checked out in that option fairly soon. He then started tower checkout. Now, Nick had a partial disability from WWII, something about his legs or feet. Even with the elevator, there were some steps to climb and he found it difficult.  Having purchased a home (not far from me) he asked if he could remain at Ontario and work only FSS. I believe he had some backing from the VA for this. It may have been just what the Region was looking for, they approved and said that all future vacancies, that were not essential to tower staffing, would be staffed  with the station option, looking forward to the time there would be two separate staffs. The station personnel would be GS10 and the tower remained at the GS11 status. (I suppose Nick would have had a reduction, but he probably was given a GS10 step that did not affect his wallet.

 Just north of the tower was a small building that housed the MTIC, and equipment workroom and the FSDO. There were plans to enlarge this and with the separation of tower and station, they included a new FSS with all of its own facilities, including an office for their Chief. One interesting thing, when the complements were set, but before the station moved into the new building, the supervisors still had both areas. Everyone else could stay, but we continued up and down, spending time in both areas, and usually remaining in one if the action was high volume there.

 So eventually the station had its own chief, moved the entire operation, leaving an empty room at the base of the tower. According to my personnel record, my status changed from ATCS General to ATCS Tower on December 15, 1968.

Jim Brown retired January 1, 1983 after 36 years of service.

Part 1 - Interstate Airway Communication Stations (INSACS)

End of article by Jim Brown.

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