What do actual air traffic controllers use to practice actual air traffic control? Toys, naturally.
My wife and I picked up a recently discarded and gently used table. We painted it up with some leftover paint, then mutually decided something had to be drawn on it. Since our "skillz of an artist" are somewhat lacking, I suggested we make a replica of my old practice ATC table - a ruler and some masking tape, we'll be just fine!
Step 1: Materials
Any old table (I used an IKEA Ingo table found at the dumpster, 30x46 inches)
- background color (white or green works well)
- foreground color or colors (something that contrasts well with your background, I used dark green and black for taxiways/runways, and yellow and white paint pens for runway markings)
- clear sealant (to protect your table)
- paint brush
- tape measure
- masking tape (I used 3/4", but any size should be fine)
- scrap paper (we have ours delivered straight to our mailbox)
Step 2: Planning
You can freehand an airport if you like.You can also look up the approach plate of your favorite airport and modify it a bit to fit your table. I used KRCA for mine, which has one long runway and a simple taxi system.
Download the approach plate for your desired airport and decide which features you would like to keep, and how you would like to orient the runway on the table for best fit and asthetics. I chose to have the runway parallel with the edge of the table, as I think it will be easier to explain crosswind and downwind legs using this type of alignment.
Measure your table and draw a rectangle the same scale as your table. The scale I used was 1cm:2in, so the 46" side of my table becomes 23cm on paper, and the 30" side becomes 15cm.
Some of the airport's features are exaggerated so they will seem more to scale with the props. That is, to make the airplanes look proportional, you may need to widen the runway and taxiways. I used 4 inches for the runway, and 2 or 3 inches for taxiways, but a 3 inch runway would be fine for dollar store airplanes. 2 inches is stretching it a bit, I think, but it would still work if you want to fit a larger airport on the table.
If you like, you can draw your airport exactly to scale. Your airplanes will probably look very large unless you have an abnormally large table, or abnormally small planes.
Step 3: Base Coat
This is the background color of your airport. I used white, but any color would be fine. The one I used at work had a green background. Really, it's up to you.
Just paint over the whole table, we'll paint the runway/taxiways over the top of it. I put a little over two coats of white on the table to make sure we couldn't see the wood grain beneath. Save a bit of paint to touch up the background after the runway is painted on. You know, just in case.
Stay well ventilated, and use eye protection if you choose to strip an existing finish off!
Step 4: Outlines
Using a square, a ruler, a pencil, and whatever else you want to draw straight lines, sketch the outline of your runway onto the table. Don't worry about leaving marks, you will be painting over the pencil lines and can touch up the background.
Remember to use the same scale as you used in your model. You can use a protractor to get angles if you need them.
Step 5: Runways/Taxiways
I did this in two steps, one for each color.
Cover parts you don't want to get paint all over them with scrap paper and secure with masking tape. I found it easier to put too much tape on at first, then gently perforate it with a sharp knife and pull away the excess. It is much easier to get crisp corners that way.
Be sure to remove the masking tape once the paint sets! If you leave it on there for several days, you could get a sticky residue on your nice table.
If you like, add runway markings to your runway using mapping tools from google or bing.
Step 6: Sealant
Once you're ready, and the paint is good and dry, apply the sealant coat. Apply pretty liberally, and try not to brush too much. I tried to make sure there was plenty covering the runway area, expecting the younger crew members to make carrier landings.
This coat is very important, as it will keep your paint from scraping off when practicing, or when spilling your coffee on it. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Step 7: Practice!
Most dollar stores and department stores carry small, die-cast metal airplanes for a dollar or two each. You can also try to find used ones at garage sales or on eBay.
Now you can either look up chapter 3 of your favorite version of the 7110.65, or just tune in to your local tower and repeat after them.
Side note: Some might say this is actually a Control Tower Operator Practice Table, but hey, it's still traffic in the air, right? Now if you'll excuse me, I have an approach gate key to track down.