One of the things my flight school has PPL students do is to visit the local Flight Service Station (FSS); the theory being that if you meet the people you are talking to on the radio, you’ll be more comfortable speaking to them (like when I did the PAFA tower visit).
Alaskan FSS’s are special in that they are still FAA facilities, not contracted out to Lockheed Martin. As a result, Alaska has received a lot of very experienced personnel (like international FSS people from Miami, one of the busiest regions of the US – talking to Caribbean flights and etc.) from the lower 48 when those FSS went private.
Pilots are allowed to be buzzed in if requesting information/filing a flight plan in person.
The standard weather briefing models/flight information I was shown were the same as that I could access at the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit http://aawu.arh.noaa.gov/, but it was nice to see how everything was organized on the briefer’s computer – very understandable to me now how every standard weather briefing is so…standardized. But the most fascinating part of the tour was this panel:
Each digital red number is a different FSS frequency throughout northern Alaska. Looks nuts to me. Several frequencies are reused in different regions, but they still get their own lights. I am still so amazed that every time I talk to ‘Fairbanks Radio’, I am speaking to someone sitting at this desk….who is listening to all these frequencies at the same time (minus 5 regions [see map below] in the daytime who have their own daytime regional FSS person). I’m still amazed that I immediately get a response every time I speak to FSS. I was told training takes about a year, and it takes about 3 years to become very proficient. Wow.
Busy times can lead to 4 or 5 people in queue. If the person sitting here is talking to someone else on another frequency, they can push a button to let you listen in on the other transmission (to let you know you are on standby). This happened to me yesterday, and I’m impressed that even though the FSS was busy speaking with someone else, they still managed to catch my complete callsign and request. I still always need to look at the plane’s cockpit placard when I need my own callsign. Amazing.
I completely understand now why the CFIs harp on us to state the frequency we are calling the FSS on. There is a little yellow light that flashes when a transmission comes in on a specific frequency; when that frequency corresponds to receivers in multiple locations (frequency reuse), one person talking (ex. one very high altitude plane) can light up the board.
Hint for Fairbanks: CFIs tell us to use 122.6 on our flights (because the receiver is up high on Murphy Dome). When on the ground at PAFA though, the transmission may be garbled – so we should use 122.2 or 122.45 to close a flight plan – cool, learned something new.