Are you one of many pilots intimidated by the invisible voices behind the avionics panel? Well, if you are, there is a magic action you can take to overcome your fear. It is as simple as scheduling a visit to a local air traffic control tower or Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility.
By meeting the people behind the invisible voices you will find that they are nowhere near as intimidating as they may appear. Air traffic controllers are people like you and me whose job it is to keep you and other fliers safe, and to help you when in need. Visiting their facilities not only will reduce any stress over ATC communications, it will also bring a better understanding of how you as a pilot can reduce any stress the controllers may experience. You will learn what the invisible voices see and why their commands make sense. And you may also learn what procedures and means of communications the controllers in your local area prefer and what their pet peeves are.
Tower and TRACON visits happen on a case-by-case basis and the rules vary from facility to facility. If you decide you want to visit a tower on a whim, you can ask the ground controller if they have time for a visit. You may get lucky and get up right away. However, generally you need to schedule a visit by calling the phone number listed for the tower.
TRACONs are a little more challenging to get into. The SoCal TRACON, for example, generally schedules monthly tours for pilots and other interested parties. However, currently that facility is under a moratorium for at least a couple of months, a SoCal TRACON representative said. The FAASTeam also schedules TRACON tours, when available; but these tours are infrequent and have to be booked several weeks in advance. So you can either track the FAASTeam availability for the TRACON facility nearest you or call the local TRACON directly to see whether they are offering tours.
If you are able to schedule your appointment, make sure to get clear instructions on how to access the facility and what you need to bring. Some facilities may require proof of citizenship, but generally any government issued identification card will do.
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