The Aluminum Ballet  is a is a novel about my air traffic control experiences overlaid with a FACADE of fiction to protect both the guilty and the innocent. Set in Kansas City En Route Control Center in the time period 1968-1981, it embraces the good, the bad, and the ugly of those who control aircraft; their antics, and their black humor in dealing with  a million and a half aircraft a year, and the deaths of those who didn't survive the experience. 

The Aluminum Ballet is currently available on Amazon.  

for those of you with an interest in Air Traffic Control and fiction novels, I am happy to share a sample from one of the chapters.


Excerpt from "The Aluminium Ballet"


                   Joe Westley, the midnight shift watch supervisor, looked down the long row of radar scopes and thought, boring damn midnight shifts. Thirty-five years of this crap, and the midnight watches hadn’t gotten any better. Joe motioned Sam Gable over to the watch supervisor’s desk.

“What’s up, Boss Man?”

              “How about watching this for a few minutes while I go for a cup of coffee?” Joe had no relief on mids other than to use an available controller or team supervisor for short periods.

           Sam looked pensive. He thought about the nap he was getting ready to take, then said, “You bet. What do I need to know?”

          “Not much, just answer the phone if it rings.”

           “Will do, Boss Man,” Sam said, grinning.

           Joe looked back when he reached the glass doors that sealed off the control room, and just for a moment, questioned his own judgment for leaving Sam in charge. “No sleeping while I’m gone, Gable, or you will pay.”

          Sam rubbed the top of the beat-up desk as if it were the finest marble. “Never. No way, Boss Man.”

           Joe continued on through the double doors, shaking his head slightly as he went. Sam watched Joe until he disappeared down the hall. Unable to sit still, he played with a few of the hundred or so buttons on the communications panel, imagining what he would say if he had to answer one of them. Then he leaned back in the watch supervisor’s chair and propped his feet up on the desk. As controllers walked by he barked, “Salute when you pass by here!” The controllers just laughed and walked on. 

          Ten minutes after Joe’s departure, the phone rang. Sam picked it up, and with a voice of authority, said, “Kansas City Center Watch Desk.”

          The voice on the other end of the line said, “Breadman.”

          Sam felt a surge of pure panic. He sat the phone down to give himself a moment to think. He knew the Strategic Air Command used code words for special operations, including nuclear missile launches. Sam continued to wait, hoping the caller on the other end of the line would hang up. Then he summoned his courage and picked the phone up again. “Say again.”

          “Breadman,” the voice responded—this time with some edge.

          “Standby,” Sam replied. He laid the phone down again and rifled through the desk drawers for the combination to the safe that contained secret material. His frantic search was unsuccessful, so with time running out, Sam pushed the building pager and said in a desperate voice, “Joe Westley to the watch desk—Westley to the watch desk,” and hung up the phone.

           Joe came running through the double doors. “What’s up, Sam?”

          “A caller on the phone keeps saying ‘Breadman’ and I can’t find the combination to the safe.”

          “Jesus, Sam.” Joe said, “It’s the Manor Bread man trying to make a delivery. Give me the damned phone.” Joe buzzed the delivery door and said, “it’s open,” into the phone. Joe looked at Sam and shook his head.

          “Sorry, Joe. I thought it was a missile launch or somethin’.”

           Joe pointed to his right. “That’s what the Red Phone is for.” Joe wondered again about his judgment in leaving Sam in charge.

           Sam smiled as the light bulb came on. “Got it, Boss Man...nothin’ to this job.”

“You are relieved, Sam.”

               Sam’s confidence returned immediately. “If you need a break later....”

“Not likely,” Joe said, shaking his head.


Copyright © 2015 Woody Barlow, All Rights Reserved