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Meet: Steve Shackelford

a photo of Steve in his flight suit

Chat Archive

Who I Am
I am an Air Traffic Supervisor for the FAA. I work at the Hawthorne Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS). The personnel at the Hawthorne AFSS spend a great deal of their time briefing pilots about the weather that they can expect on their flight. Most of the pilot weather briefings are by telephone prior to the pilot's departure. Other times, pilots are briefed in flight by radio. You may even pick up the telephone only to discover that you are talking to a pilot who is on his cellular phone at 20,000 feet over Canada. Flight service specialists also make sure that any additional information that pilots may need (like runway closures, airport closures, failures of any navigational devices, etc.) is given to them before they depart on their flight. And, very importantly, they conduct the search and rescue effort for any aircraft that is overdue on their flight plan. All the specialists are highly trained in all aspects of weather and the operation of the national airspace system. They are, in many ways, experts in explaining the weather and the air traffic control system to pilots and other interested individuals. My job as a supervisor is not only to remain proficient in all the required tasks but also to supervise a team of highly qualified flight service specialists. I also teach Meteorology and Navigation classes in the evening at the Long Beach City College, Long Beach, CA.

What I Like About My Job
Every job has good points and bad. Sometimes pilots are killed because of weather related reasons. Those situations are always carefully examined to determine if the pilot ever got a pilot weather briefing and, if so, was anything overlooked or not given in the briefing. Even aircraft overdue on a flight plan are carefully and diligently searched for until the aircraft is located.

As a Child
I grew up in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita has several aircraft manufacturing plants, so naturally I was interested in airplanes and learning to fly. Wichita also often has strong thunderstorms and, at other times, brutal winter storms with high winds. I can clearly remember looking up at many a towering cumulus cloud and wondering what made the weather do what it does. I was fascinated by lightning, thunder, pouring rain and what it was that made the wind blow.

I started taking flying lessons and soon learned to fly. I steadily began to fly bigger and more powerful aircraft. Then one day I decided to take the test to become an air traffic controller. I passed the test and started my career as a developmental specialist at the Wichita Flight Service Station. While working there I was sent to the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, OK for extensive training. I was later permanently assigned to the Flight Service Station at the Grand Island, NE Flight Service Station. Earlier I mentioned good and bad things that can happen on the job. One of the bad things happened while I was assigned at Grand Island, NE. One morning I had a commercial aircraft hijacked away from me by an armed gunman while I was working with it on the ground. Fortunately, none of the passengers or crew were harmed, and the hijacker was captured. After several more promotions and reassignments, my career has taken me to my present position as an Operational Supervisor at the Hawthorne AFSS.

The Wright Flyer Project
All my life I have been interested in airplanes and weather. Then one day I heard about a group of people who were building a full scale replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The project seemed very interesting to me so I went down the following Saturday to see for myself. As a result of that visit, I became a regular team member by showing up every weekend for the next several years to work on the aircraft. While I am not an aeronautical engineer, I like to work with my hands and I try to be helpful to the highly-skilled craftsmen on the project. I also arranged for the transportation of the aircraft, as it was being finished, from Gardena, CA to Yorba Linda, CA and from Yorba Linda to the NASA facilities at Moffett Federal Airfield.

Early Influences
As a child, I read everything I could about the air and flying. I built all sorts of battery-operated devices and took electricity class at school. If I wasn't building something electrical or mechanical, I was building yet another plastic plane from a kit. Science was always my most interesting class. In fact, I clearly remember Mr. Chambers, my seventh grade science teacher, demonstrating air pressure by crushing a can right there in the classroom using air pressure alone. I was impressed and never forgot that demonstration.

a photo of Steve in his tuxedo Advice
If anyone wants to be an air traffic controller, I would suggest that they pay close attention and do well in their science and math classes. Flying is fun and exciting. Did you know that you can solo in a sailplane at age 14. When you get that first flying license, all of a sudden you realize that the whole world is now open to you.

Future Plans
I look forward to furthering my career within the FAA. I also love to teach and explain the mysterious aspects of weather and navigation. Perhaps my greatest thrill is while I am explaining a difficult aspect of meteorology and one of my students all of a sudden blurts out, "Oh! Now I get it." That sort of thrill makes my whole week. It makes life for me a wonderful adventure of discovery and very worthwhile.

Archived QuestChats with Steve Shackelford


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