An air traffic controller’s memoir blends autobiography with a history of aviation.
Debut author Miller enlisted in the Air Force in 1955 shortly after graduating high school; he was sent for basic training to San Antonio, Texas. He was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, then a testing base for experimental aircraft, and worked as an air traffic controller within the military for four years before joining the Federal Aviation Administration, where he remained for 30 years, followed by a long stint as a contract worker there until his full retirement in 2013. The author provides a concise dual history of aviation and air traffic control, which partially developed in tandem, detailing the rapid technological development of the two from rudimentary beginnings. When Miller first began his career, air traffic controlling was still in an embryonic stage—before there was either radar or regular radio control with aircraft: “The year 1955 was only twelve years after the United States flew its first jet airplane, ten years after World War II, eight years after man first broke the sound barrier, seven years after the air force became a separate branch of the military service.” Air traffic controlling, like aviation, grew out of a whirlwind of causal factors like technological innovation, the demands of war and commerce, responses to catastrophic accidents, and sweeping acts of legislation. Miller also limns the psyche of the air traffic controller, who, not entirely unlike a pilot, is confident and self-assured under pulverizing pressure. Miller’s enthusiasm for the subject is only matched by his command of the history, which is worthy of an academic monograph. Also, his experience as an air traffic controller furnishes a uniquely intimate account of that professional cosmos, sometimes anecdotally delivered. The work sometimes buries the reader under heaps of historical minutiae—the novice will likely find the litany of aircraft types and initialisms a touch dizzying. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine a better, more thorough introduction that is equally concise.
A scrupulously researched guide to an important but neglected aspect of aviation history.