In the 1960’s, my father would take me to visit his workplace, which, as an air traffic controller at Philadelphia International Airport, was pretty cool to a young kid. In the darkness of the Radar Room, I was fascinated by the blips representing airplanes with many passengers, which were briefly illuminated as the green line slowly rotated around the circular radar screen. Each rotation showed a glimpse of time – here is the new position since the last time around. Paper strips were slid into holders on the side with the airline, and flight number, for in those days a blip was just a blip. Only in the spatial imagination of an air traffic controller was held the matrix of direction and speed and altitude that prevented catastrophe.
And, I am proud to say, during my dad’s time at PHL, they had no accidents of even minor significance. And I remember when he had been promoted into middle management, during a controller’s strike, as one of the few people with the skills to work the screens, he had the entire East Coast down to the Caribbean on his radar screen. He later spoke of it as easily as walking out to check the mail – what competence! And yet, he took medical early retirement due to the stress!