Thursday, March 12, 2009

Since You Mentioned Free Food...

Let me tell you a short story about my experience with "free food".

A few years back, while I was still working at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I experienced a day in the life of show business.

One of the many duties that my office was responsible for at the time was coordinating media requests. During the last three years of my career, I had the opportunity to work with several film companies who used our facilities to film documentaries pertaining to air traffic control and/or aircraft operations and accidents. Companies desiring to use our facilities had to be approved by FAA Headquarters first, so by the time they came to me, it was just a matter of my making sure they followed our rules.

Most of the time, the coordination wasn't too big a deal. We would only allow access to our facilities in areas that would not impact air traffic control operations. Since DFW had three control towers, along with the radar approach control facility, it wasn't too difficult to provide limited areas for the producers to set up their equipment. We didn't allow video or voice recordings of the controllers while they were working, so my office would provide them with an area where no actual controlling was being done.

Of the three control towers, we only used two at a time for controlling airport traffic, so there was always one available for extracurricular activies such as tours and the occasional filming.

The films made at DFW while I was there were small, but interesting, documentaries that you might have seen on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, or The Weather Channel. Normally the "crew" consisted of only one or two camera-men, a sound engineer, a lighting technician, the director, an occasional 'actor' (or on-camera speaker), and a couple of guys (or gals) to help tote all the cables and equipment that might be used.

However, the experience I wanted to detail here involved the company that produced the TV series "Walker: Texas Ranger". After having worked with the small groups mentioned earlier, I was quite shocked to see what showed up on the morning that we scheduled our facilities for this TV show.

As it was explained to me during our pre-filming meeting, the scenes that were to be filmed at DFW would require one full day of work (12 hours, as it turned out). All of the scenes would be filmed in our oldest tower...the Center Tower, which was not being used for air traffic controlling on the day of filming.

The director assured me that his people would not touch any of our equipment without coordination with our personnel. His plan would be to add a couple of plexiglass see-through "screens" that his actors could have as a back-ground. He planned to use some of our off-duty controllers (volunteers who wanted to be "actors-for-a-day"), who would be wearing their headsets, talking to each other, and pointing out the windows behind the screens, but visible to the camera. The tower was supposed to be an "emergency operation area" in the film. It seems that the star of the series, Walker, had been kidnapped and while being moved across the country, his small plane crashed...somewhere. The scene to be filmed in our tower involved his co-star 'working' with the search-and-rescue people attempting to find him.

The entire scene would take up less than 5 minutes of the finished show, but it would take all day to film. Unbelievable!

As our pre-filming meeting ended, the director asked if his crew would be able to set up a tent across the street from the tower. At that time, there was an adequate area available...and it was coordinated with the Airport Authority.

On the day of our scheduled filming, I arrived at the Tower around 6:30 a.m. As busy as DFW Airport normally is, at 6:30 in the morning, it's usually reasonably quiet. As I exited my car, however, I heard a new sound. It was the sound of diesel generators going across the street from the control tower. There were at least 3 or 4 trailers lined up in the area where the sound was coming from. There were temporary lights illuminating the area. There was a tent set up large enough to accomodate a dozen 6-foot-long dining tables, each surrounded by folding chairs.

One of the trailers turned out to be a movable kitchen which contained three cooks and two order takers who were stationed at a 'window/counter' facing the dining tent. They were taking breakfast orders from all of the crew and actors that had showed up for the day. It was a full-service kitchen, offering all the pancakes, eggs, grits, ham, bacon, biscuits, gravy, etc, that one might want for breakfast. A beverage area was set up in the dining tent where you could help yourself to milk, orange juice, coffee, water, or tea (hot and cold). It was all-you-can-eat (and drink)....FREE!

By the time everyone had finished breakfast and headed for their positions in the tower cab, it was around 8:00 a.m. For the first four hours, we mostly just sat and watched as the technicians readied their cables, monitors, cameras, and other equipment. The towers are comfortable working areas for the 10 or 12 controllers that normally cover a shift of air traffic control in them, but for all of the technicians, actors, crew, and off-duty controllers that were there that day, it was crowded.

While all of this preparation was going on, there was a steady flow of free food being brought up from the ground floors. There was fresh fruit, pastries, soft-drinks, coffee, water, and candy continuously. When the last banana was taken from the table, another bunch suddenly appeared. It continued like that all day.

We did have a lunch break around 12:30. The lunch break took everyone back to the dining area across the street for more free food. This time it was grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, cold-cut sandwiches, french fries, chips, pickles, more fruit, and drinks...all-you-can-eat.

It was an interesting experience. Even though there was a lot of sitting around and waiting, I would do it again just for the food.

3 Comments:

At March 13, 2009 at 11:08 PM , Blogger John Inman said...

Chuck, Cynthia has told me stories about filming of 'Walker', in some of hotels she's been in teaching around Dallas, too. She seen them filming more than once. It was quite exciting, she said. She never got to see Chuck Norris, but said she saw several of the 'deputies' in the show. It was probably exciting for you as well, and very tasty.

 
At March 14, 2009 at 7:51 AM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

Nice story, Chuck. Was the TRACON, etc at Dallas located on or off the airport property? How much of inbound and departing flight control was handled from your towers, i.e., where did you pick them up?

 
At March 15, 2009 at 2:09 PM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

Hi Glen,

The TRACON is located smack in the middle of the airport. It's positioned between the Northbound and Southbound "spine" roads that the public uses to get to and from the terminals. We have our own 4-story parking garage located in our compound.

The towers (combined) average between 1,700 and 1,900 operations these days. Before the economy cratered, we were averaging between 2,200 and 2,300 per day. An 'operation' is a 'take-off' or a 'landing'.

The TRACON handles between 2,500 and 3,200 daily operations, with the busiest day typically being on Thursday.

Our airspace is not circular, it's more of a rectangle, We have four "cornerposts" that the Center clears the inbounds over and they're located 40 miles from the center of DFW airport to the NE, SE, SW, and NW corners of our airspace. Our departures are vectored to join SIDs (standard instrument departure routes) that egress between the arrival gates North, South, East, and West.

Basically, that's the layout. Incidentally, as you probably know, American Airlines has a major hub at DFW and they (along with their feeder airlines) account for 80% of the DFW traffic.

 

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