Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The interview

In Part 1 of this series, I went over my qualifications and gave some suggestions of things to consider when choosing an airline to apply at. This time, I'll get into more detail about what the interview itself was like. And, no, there will be no "dress nicely" or "smile and make eye contact" tips in this post to waste your time.

I mentioned before that a resource I wish I would have known about before my interview is the excellent overview book The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual by Greg Brown & Mark Holt. (If you prefer an eBook, there's a paper copy bundled with the e-formatted version here.) It is a gentle introduction to the world of the bigger aircraft you'll be interviewing to fly, and it will make your life easier in ground school once you get hired. This book is definitely worth the money, and I'm not just saying that because if you purchase it with one of the links above or the picture below, Keyboard & Rudder gets a small commission. Seriously, if you haven't bought it yet, do it now and thank me later!


There are tons of sites covering airline job interview questions. Some airlines even post their own list of topics you might be asked about during your interview. For example, here's a "helpful" pilot study guide from Endeavor (PDF). The reason I put "helpful" in scare quotes is because when you look at it, it almost boils down to "just study everything."

However, there is an easy way to get way more specific information on what to concentrate on: interview gouges. If you search "[airline name] interview gouge", you'll find not just a vague list of topics, but specific questions people were asked in that specific interview. Not only that, you'll also get other useful information about how that airline structures its interview day, how many people you'll talk to, etc.

No matter which airline you're interviewing for, your day will look something like this:

  • Welcome and company background presentation
  • Written test(s)
  • Human resources interview
  • Technical interview with one or more current company pilots
  • Sim evaluation

 

 Welcome and background presentation

Every company does this. The only difference from company to company is how long they spend talking about themselves. Your only requirement here is to pay attention, smile, and nod occasionally without nodding off.

Written test(s)

Every company also has one or more written tests. You will definitely get one that has several dozen questions either straight from the ATP written test bank or extremely similar to the ATP written. Although it hadn't been that long since I took my ATP written, I brushed up for this hurdle by re-reading the Gleim ATP written test prep.


Some airlines administer other tests, usually ones that measure personality or general intelligence (like the Wonderlic). You can't really study for these, and you're not expected to, since they're not exactly pass/fail exams. The Wonderlic is the same test that NFL prospects take, and there are a lot of places you can practice for it, but don't spend a lot of time on it. Get a feel for the flow of the test and get back to studying the important things, like your ATP or instrument questions. After all, if you bomb the technical written portion, your day is going to be a short one no matter how well you did on the non-technical one(s).

Human resources interview

This isn't all that different from any HR interview you'd have for any job anywhere. The questions are general and pertain to your personal background and history. Chances are you're going to be only with the HR specialist, who probably doesn't know much about aviation besides what they'll need to know to make sure you're qualified. (Don't take that as a given, however, because many of them are very sharp people.) That means you're going to get generic TMAAT ("Tell me about a time...") questions, why you chose this company, what are your career goals, etc. at this point in the interview.

Some companies use this as another screening point to cut the field down before proceeding to the technical interview. If you don't get chosen to proceed to the technical portion, that doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with you. You may have just had the bad luck of interviewing on a day when there are 30 applicants and only 8 spots, in which case HR will eliminate half of the people on the spot and the next interviewer will eliminate half of the ones who made it through to them. Or you may have just drawn the short straw that day and the next lowest person compared to you had three times as many hours as you do and a fistful of type ratings. No matter what happens, use it as an opportunity to hone your interviewing skills.

Technical interview

You may get this next, or you may do the sim eval first. In many places the order it takes place just happens to be luck, as the schedule will have some people in the sim while others interview. Once you've made it past the first two hurdles, the interview starts becoming more fun, because now you have a chance to sit down with someone who already flies for that airline and talk flying. As a pilot, isn't that what you love to talk about most anyway?

One of the things you'll find the most help when preparing for this part is a humble instrument guide. Dust off your old instrument oral exam guide and the FAA's Instrument Procedures Handbook.

Why the instrument stuff? Because that's what 80% or more of your technical questions will be about. Once you start flying in the airlines, all your flying is "in the system". Much of it will be into busy airports like EWR, ORD, ATL, etc. and in conditions you might not have experienced before. Being sharp on instrument procedures will help you the first time it's 300 overcast at Newark and New York Approach is so busy you can't even check in and they just spit out at you "Foobar4762decendandmaintain3000toTeterboroflyheading170tointerceptthe22Llocalizer190orbettertoGIMEE." Yeah, that's going to happen, believe me, and maybe 10 minutes after you got out of a "hold as published over COATE" that was sprung on you 90 seconds before you made it to COATE intersection. (Seriously, that is a real example from what happened to me my second week on the job.) Flying into New York is fun, but your interviewer is there to make sure you've got what it takes first, or at least enough knowledge to figure it out on the fly.

Since you're going to the wayback machine and reminiscing about the good ol' instrument rating days, you'll also find that the list of tips I wrote for acing an oral examination also apply quite well here. After all, the technical interview is basically an oral exam, with the difference being passing one gives you a signed new certificate and the other gives you a signed new offer letter. The principles of both are almost identical.

My technical interview consisted in large part of flying a short flight along a Jeppesen low-altitude en route chart. I point out that it was a Jeppesen because if you're used to government charts, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the Jepp symbology, since that's what the airlines use.

Although it was made a little more difficult by me being so much more used to government charts, a lot of the questions were more about general instrument navigational skills and procedures. For example, "How many ways can you identify this intersection?" "What does this racetrack mean?" "How would you enter this hold?" "What do you have to do when you enter it?" "Here's the METAR. Do you have the minimums you need to shoot an approach?" "Will you have them three hours from now according to this TAF?" "If you don't, how far past the final approach fix can you go to attempt the approach?" As you can see, most of these are general knowledge and not Jeppesen specific, and almost all of it comes from the instrument rating.

While you won't be asked questions about this next thing, your interviewer is also silently evaluating whether you're the kind of person they'd want to be sitting next to in a cockpit for several hours. Given the choice between a candidate with fair skills and a fun personality versus one with great skills and an overbearing personality, the "lesser" skilled one will get the job 9 times out of 10. That's because technical skills can be trained and polished, whereas personality can't.

Of all the questions I was asked, by far the hardest one was, "What will make you a good captain?" Even though you're interviewing for a spot as a First Officer, airlines don't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars training someone who would be a bad fit come upgrade time. I knew this company would be a good fit when I thought for a bit about his question and admitted, "I can't think of a way to put it without sounding arrogant," and he replied, "That's OK; we're all pilots here," and we all had a good laugh.

Sim Eval

Most places also have you perform a short ride in a simulator. It may be a large, expensive one that is also used (or used to be) in their training department or it may be a small desktop sim. Either way, it's not usually a company's way of abusing you; its purpose is mainly to separate those who are great at memorizing canned interview answers but can't fly from those who are great at memorizing canned interview answers and can fly.

Relax and enjoy the flight. Your evaluator understands that you're most likely totally unfamiliar with the equipment you're being asked to fly. They're there to get a general feel for your ability, not to give you an IPC. Just follow their instructions and have fun, because a large part of it is their way of finding out simply whether you can follow instructions. Those who can will usually do well in training, after all.

Conclusion

Prepare to be there all day, and possibly for more than one day. A short airline interview still consumes about four hours, and 8-12 hours is common. After all that, you may get the offer you came for right away! However, if you don't, don't despair. If you've been there 12 hours, then so have the interviewers, and they may simply not have the energy left to put their heads together and review everyone that day. An airline hire is a five-figure investment by the company, and it's a decision they may not want to make without rest.

Almost all airlines have a policy of notifying you within two weeks either way. If you don't get it, remember what I wrote above and don't take it personally. There are many factors that are totally out of your control that may have played a part. Debrief yourself about your own interview by reviewing what you think went well and where you could have done better. Just as with anything else in life, keep what worked and work on what didn't.

If you got your offer, congratulations! Now you're in for even more long days ahead, and come sim training you'll be wishing for something as easy as an all-day interview! Get ready to spend some quality hours at home with a pre-class study packet and some cockpit diagrams:

What my dining room table looked like for weeks.



Friday, December 5, 2014

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The pre-hire stage

I'd planned to start this series much earlier, but the process (plus keeping up with regular life) has been more energy-demanding and time-consuming that I expected—and that's even after taking Hofstadter's Law (it always takes longer than you expect) into account.

I hadn't planned to enter the Part 121 (airline) world, but then again, when I learned to fly years ago, I hadn't planned to become a flight instructor either, and that worked out pretty well anyway. Aviation has a way of drawing one in little by little. One seemingly big step leads naturally to another one: the "how do I even become a pilot?" step leads to the "can I actually fly this thing solo?" step, which leads to "I just passed my checkride... now what" step.

Some people stop at that step, whereas for others it's just the first flight of stairs leading to an instrument rating. Many stop at that floor, and others—like me—want to see what's the next step after that. That leads to the commercial certificate, then the CFI.

I loved instructing, and didn't expect to move on from there. (Notice that I didn't say "move up", because instructing is a worthy and worthwhile position on its own, not a "lower class" aviation job.) But there was still another step I hadn't taken: the airline world.

Since I didn't get into instructing just build up 1500 hours and run, I had over 2100 hours when I applied. Even so, this didn't even put me in the top half of the class of 9 I was in as far as hours went.

Probably the hardest thing to build up is the required multi-engine time. Most airlines want at least 50-100 hours of multi time. Having a lot isn't a negative, but it's not a huge help, either, since they know you're going to build up plenty with them anyway. You need a decent knowledge of multi-engine procedures and aerodynamics, but spending hundreds of hours in a twin with both engines running isn't all that much more impressive than getting the rating and enough hours to be insurable and meet the ATP aeronautical experience requirements. Once you know "dead foot, dead engine" and "identify, verify, feather", you'll do it so many times in the sim that having barely more than the interview minimums isn't as big a handicap as you might fear. I'll devote a post on some ways to get multi time later. Mine came with a bit of luck, by meeting someone who owned a Baron and needed an instructor to accompany him on trips.

Once you've built up the experience to qualify, it's now a matter of choosing which airline(s) to apply to. There are a lot of factors to consider, and no answer is the right one for everyone since everyone will weigh their factors differently. Or you could take the lazy road and just put your application into AirlineApps.com and go with whoever calls first, but do you want to trust the next several years of your life to luck?

Some factors to consider:

  • Whether your airline has a base where you live and, if not, how easy the commute is to where you would be based.
  • The type of equipment they fly. (Shiny regional jets, big turboprops, small turboprops, etc.)
  • The stability of the company. Many regionals live and die by the terms of the CPA (capacity purchase agreement) they have with the major or majors they fly for.
  • Upgrade time. This has a major effect on when you start logging that all-important turbine PIC time as a Captain.
  • The company atmosphere and pilot group.
  • Pay and benefits. This isn't as big a factor as you'd think, basically because the pay scales are low at just about every regional, and by the 2nd or 3rd year most hourly rates are in the same ballpark. However, as an example of how benefits make a difference, one major regional that I ruled out flew a particular aircraft that they had major, long-term maintenance problems with, yet their benefits didn't include cancellation pay. If you were working for them, you could show up at the beginning of your four-day trip only to see all those hours vanish, along with your paycheck.

All of these factors will combine to give you the big QoL: Quality of Life. As I said, each one of these will have different weights for different people, so I can't give you the One True Answer—although that doesn't keep the online pilot forums from being filled with hundreds of people who claim to have the "right" answer.

I recommend rating each one of these factors for yourself on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being "don't care" and 5 being "critical". This will help you consider whether the airline you're looking at will be a good fit for you, rather than just taking the word of "PilotDewd007" who said in one of the forums that "Come to XYZ because it's super kewl here!"

As an example of my thinking, here's how I rated each one for myself when I was considering where to apply.

Commute or home base: 2. As long as I can get there, I'm happy. Being home-based would definitely be better, but the airline world changes so much that what's a base today might not be one tomorrow.

Type of equipment: 1. To me, turbine time is turbine time. I'd fly anything from my Cessna 172 to a Embraer 190 and be perfectly happy.

Company stability: 5. I'm too old to sit around getting furloughed over and over again just because the company bought too many jets a couple of years ago and can't afford the payments now.

Upgrade time: 5. Beginning a 121 career at 40 means that I need to upgrade in a decent amount of time so I can still have 15-20 years left when it's time to move to a major. I don't have the luxury of spending 7-9 years as a regional FO.

Company atmosphere: 4. While I can tend to get along with most people, being surrounded by a bunch of uptight and/or cocky people, or pilots who are miserable because of management vs. union issues, for the next several years was not something I wanted to deal with.

Pay and benefits: 2. My wife is an RN, so we already have a good, stable paycheck and a decent health plan.

After you evaluate which places might be a good fit for you and you've applied and got an interview, it's time to prepare for that interview. One of the nice things about evaluating your priorities is that you've also done a lot of the research that you'd want to have done before the interview in any case. After all, you're almost definitely going to get the "Tell me why you applied to our company" question during the interview, and you want to have something more impressive to say than, "Because your planes have two wings."

I will devote an entire post to my interview later, but for now, I will say that the run-down (or what's known as the "gouge") at AviationInterviews.com for the company I interviewed at was spot-on. If you put "[airline you're interviewing at] gouge" into your favorite search engine, you'll have plenty of things to study before your big day so you can dazzle them with your knowledge.

A resource I wish I would have known about before my interview is the excellent overview book The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual by Greg Brown & Mark Holt. (If you prefer an eBook, there's a paper copy bundled with the e-formatted version here.) It is a gentle introduction to the world of the bigger aircraft you'll be interviewing to fly, and it will make your life easier in ground school. I found it only while getting ready for my recurrent training, so my initial training was over before I started reading it. Even so, I picked up quite a few things from it, mostly of the "Oh, so that's why such-and-such is like that." This book is definitely worth the money!


I'll dazzle you more with my interview experiences in my next part in this series, "Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: The interview and post-offer stage" soon. If this helped or there's something else you wanted to know, leave a comment!

Becoming an Airline Pilot, The Series

There are a lot of posts in this series, since there is a lot that goes into becoming an airline pilot. For those who don't want to read through all of them from beginning to end, here's a table of contents for you.

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 0: Before the beginning

Part 1: The pre-hire stage
Part 2: The interview
Part 3: The post-offer stage

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 1: Ground school (Coming soon!) 

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 2: More ground school (Coming soon!)

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 3: Still more ground school (Coming soon!)

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 4: Simulator training (Coming soon!)

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 5: Checkride time (Coming soon!)

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 6: IOE (Initial Operating Experience) 1 (Coming soon!)

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 7: IOE 2 (Coming soon!)

Becoming an Airline Pilot, Week 8: IOE 3 and signoff (Coming soon!)

Being an Airline Pilot, Week 9: Sitting Reserve (Coming soon!)

Being an Airline Pilot, Week 10ish: We're all counting on you (Coming soon!)


Monday, June 30, 2014

What do beer and thunderstorms have in common?

We all know that beer and flying don't mix. What you may not know is that the same thing that causes trouble for your beer also causes trouble for your flying.

If you're already a weather expert, this post may help you visualize some of the terms you already know in a different way. If you're not, have no fear: you're going to be ahead of the game because you'll understand more about some technical weather terms that you'll see on your private and/or instrument written exams than I did back when I took mine.

Those terms are "convection" and "latent heat of condensation". I made it all the way past my instrument knowledge exam without truly understanding what made convection work. I knew that it was an upward motion of a parcel of air, which was enough to bluff my way though the questions on thunderstorms, but I never could understand why a blob of air would just keep rising until it couldn't rise anymore.

The answer (and, like most things in meteorology, it's a general answer, not a 100% of the time answer) is contained in the concept of "latent heat of condensation". In this case, to keep things simple, let's look as "latent heat" as meaning "stored heat", which might make it easier to see what's happening.

In the spring of 2013, Dale Durran, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, studied how much of an effect the condensation that appears on the side of a beer can has on warming its contents. In this press release, he calculates that a sheen of condensation roughly the thickness of a human hair could warm the beer by 9 °F (5 °C) in only five minutes! That's a whole lot of energy in a small amount of moisture.

To see if those calculations are correct, Durran and his colleague Dargan Frierson performed some experiments, the results of which were published in this not-overly-technical and easily readable paper called Condensation, atmospheric motion, and cold beer. One of the important parts of the paper investigates how much of the heating is due to stored heat of condensation being released and how much is due to heat being transferred from the surrounding air.

They plotted the difference in heat from the surrounding air and that released in the process of condensation and came up with this:

The plot shows that the temperature rise due to latent heating increases dramatically with relative humidity. Moreover, the increase is much larger at 35 °C than at 25 °C, because of the approximately exponential dependence of the water-vapor content of saturated air on temperature. At 35 °C and a relative humidity greater than 60%, the temperature rise due to latent heating exceeds that due to heat transfer from dry air: Latent heating is the dominant factor warming your cold beer.
(Incidentally, this explains why thunderstorms are so rare in the winter: the cold, dense air in wintertime can't hold enough water vapor to store enough heat for them.)

So we've established that beer gets warmed by the release of stored energy as water condenses on the can. What does this have to do with thunderstorms?

Well, consider a cylinder of air that is a mile wide instead of the size of a beer can. Since a beer can is only about 2 1/2 inches wide, this parcel of air is going to be 25,000 times larger, and yet a mile-wide blob of air is not all that big in atmospheric terms. Think of how much stored energy is in that, yet while it's still locked up in water vapor, it's invisible!

Now let's give that cylinder of air a nudge upwards. This nudge could come from encountering a mountain range, or (quite commonly) a lift from a cold front sliding in underneath it and bullying it upward. Once it starts to rise, some of the water vapor will condense as the air cools adiabatically, and a cloud will begin to form. If there is not much moisture (i.e., water vapor) in the air, the cloud might be a small puff or a little layer.

However, given enough moisture (like on humid days), the energy that was stored in that water will be enough to heat that little blob and make it rise even more. As it rises, air from below it will be drawn up to replace it (otherwise there would be a vacuum behind it). The air from below will come up, deposit its moisture as a cloud, and heat itself up. That will make that blob rise, draw up more moist air from below it, and on and on until a towering cumulus (more formally known as cumulus congestus, but you'll usually hear pilots refer to them as "towering cumulus") forms.

This process is what convection is all about, and why pilots are always on the lookout for convective activity. If the atmospheric conditions are unstable enough, that towering cumulus can form into a full cumulonimbus: the dreaded thunderstorm. You can see a dramatic picture of the difference between the two in "Why there is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime".


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SPECIAL PROGRAMMING NOTE!

You've probably noticed that the last several months of posts haven't appeared. Is Keyboard & Rudder dead?

Not at all. I've just been extremely busy.

What could possibly keep me so busy I haven't written?

Going to the big new world of the airlines, that's what.

Yes, after several years as a happy flight instructor, a recent change in circumstances has led me to enter the Part 121 scene. It's an exciting new world, with new procedures, new routes, and new equipment to learn (for me, the Dash 8), and that's what I've been up to since early this summer.

Once a flight instructor, always a flight instructor, so I'll be writing about the experience of joining a regional airline. Over the weeks to come, I'll be posting a blow-by-blow account of what the process and training is like.

The first post in the series is about getting ready for the interview, what it was like, and what I've been doing since getting hired and waiting for class to start. If you're considering a career in the airlines, or just wonder what it's like for the "other half", you should find this upcoming series interesting.

Even if you're not interested in going to an airline, I've always tried to glean the best aspects of all types of flying (military, commercial, and general aviation) to make myself and my students better aviators, so you'll probably find something to make your own flying (or learning to fly) a little better and safer.

I hope you enjoy an exciting bundle of posts, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The "Fun Curve" of Flying

One of the ways learning to fly changes your life is that it presents you with challenges that you can either face up to or run away from. Dealing with these teaches you about who you are and makes you better at dealing with life's obstacles.

One of these challenges is dealing with learning how to press on even when things aren't as fun. Life itself is a series of ups and downs with its good times and its bad times, and flying is just life on a smaller scale.

Unlike life, however, I have a map for you that will tell you when the good times will be and when the not-so-good times will come. I call it the "Fun Curve":

Click image to embiggen.
It is divided into five stages, with an angry red box in the middle where pilots are made and sorted out from regular people. These stages are:

1. New maneuvers: Everything is brand new and it is amazing. You have no idea what you're doing, but who cares? Just being in the air is as fun as can be, and there's plenty of time to get good at all this stuff later!

2. Pre-solo: There's the first sharp dip in the Fun Curve. You're testing out 50 different ways not to land an airplane, and halfway through you start to wonder if you'll ever get it right. That's when you enter the red box. Those with persistence will be rewarded with even less fun, as flying around in circles around the pattern time after time after time gets wearisome. Just as it gets so close to the bottom as to try even a saint's patience, you get that first solo and things are way more fun again! Those without persistence drop out before that unforgettable day.

3. Post-solo / Cross-country: You've shown you can fly all by yourself, and now you can go out into the practice area and practice what you want, when you want, for as long as you want, without some constant chattering in your ear coming from the right seat. After that, cross country flights take a lot of planning, but they're fun because you're going places you've never been. That's great until it's time for...

4. Checkride preparation: The second sharp dip in the Fun Curve, and the second most common place where non-pilots fall by the wayside. You've spent all that time practicing on your own, thinking you were doing pretty well, and now the right seat is filled with an irritating yipping instructor again. You do the same things over and over again—again. When you're not flying, you're studying for the oral portion. When you're not studying for the oral, you're wondering if you'll pass the flight portion. If you stick with it, eventually you end up getting that second big instructor signoff: the practical test endorsement. You pass and end up as a...

5. Licensed pilot: This is where the one line splits into two.

The green line represents those who continue to learn and master the art of flying. With most things in life, the better you are at something, the more you enjoy it. The more you enjoy it, the better you get at it, so this line goes slowly but steadily upward.

The red line represents those who (in what is an unfortunately common trajectory) stop improving their skills after they pass. Eventually they've seen all their buddies' houses from the air and eaten all the $100 hamburgers they wanted. After that, flying gets dull for them, and they often stop flying altogether.

For the second group, there are two pieces of good news. First, it's often possible to become one of the green liners by deciding to pursue an instrument rating or a tailwheel endorsement or a seaplane rating or doing any of dozens of things that bring the spark of newness back into flying. Second, even if you do drop out for years, after you have your license it's good forever. All you have to do is get with an instructor, brush off the rust, and get back in the air.


The two main things to take from this curve are:

First, if you're at a point in your training that you're starting to doubt whether you'll ever make it (or perhaps you've already dropped out because you thought you where the only one to ever have trouble learning to land an airplane), you can see that you're going through the same thing the other 600,000+ pilots in the United States went through, too. If they could make it, then so can you.

Second, you can see that the curve shoots up sharply after the low points. That's my way of saying, "It may suck right now, but once you get through it, it's fun again. Trust me."

Just like anything involving human behavior and psychology, this curve will not be identical for everyone. However, I've seen this pattern so many times in so many students that it probably won't be too far off for you. If you'd like to share your own experience, leave a comment below.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bringing you what brings the weather

I recently had a chance to visit the National Weather Service office in Cleveland as part of a Northeast Ohio Chapter of the American Meteorological Society event. While the weather happens up above, the people at the NWS are the ones who bring it to you.

Whether you're planning a flight or a picnic, or want to know if you need to go shopping for a new pair of ruby slippers, the forecast you need comes from a two-story building on the west side of the field at Cleveland-Hopkins. The Doppler radar you're used to watching on the TV or on the Internet is right in the parking lot:

The CLE Doppler site. Note the NASA hangar in the background.
This system is what controls it:


Did you ever wonder how that annoying screechy tone and bad weather news gets to your television? Through these stations, that's how:


In the event of severe weather, the staff goes over to one of these units, pushes some buttons indicating what kind and where, and it's on the air.

Close-up of the rack above the monitors. (Click image to embiggen if you want to read the labels.) Still looking for the button that says "Global Thermonuclear War" on it.
I don't think any of these six monitors let you zoom in to see if your long-lost wife is working in the garden, but they do let the forecasters see a bunch of weather data at once:

If that looks like the WKYC Doppler 3 radar image at the upper left, that's because it is. Apparently the radar goes from the dome in the parking lot to Channel 3's office downtown, then gets piped back to the NWS office where it came from in the first place.
One of the more interesting things to happen while I was there took place at this desk:

The windows have a nice view of the airport.

There was a staffer in the chair and I was talking to another one while standing behind it. I mentioned that I keep the TAF site for Cleveland and Mansfield bookmarked on my phone so I can check it easily throughout the day. I asked if this is where they come from and he said, "Sure. Kirk here just put the last one out a few minutes ago."

So I got to meet the guy who writes the crazy TAFs I've written about, and he even spent a while showing me how they get made. I always wondered if they have a mini-model or some sort of local forecasting aid that does most of the work like the continent-wide models do. As it turns out, when it comes to TAFs, it's still plain old looking at the maps and using the brain to figure out what's going to happen—much like a pilot's typical preflight weather planning, but with professional tools. (One of the tools he introduced me to is Bufkit, which is great if you like Skew-T diagrams.)

Many of the places you use as a pilot or as a taxpayer are available to check out. Go see what else is out there for you to explore!