Tom Horne

The Tower’s-eye View

June 7, 2008 by Thomas A. Horne, Editor At Large

“Aircraft leaving Runway 30, turn left on taxiway Delta, and follow the marshallers to parking.”

That’s perhaps the most common type of radio call I made during the the AOPA Fly-In. My duty was to serve in the ground control tower cab from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. This cab has some history to it. During World War II, when the Frederick airport was a military training field, the cab really was a control tower. Now it sits atop a squat building that houses the airport restaurant–the Airway Cafe.

I showed up a 7 sharp, and it was low IFR–200 feet vertical visibility, and the AWOS was broadcasting visibilities of 1/4 mile in fog. So my equipment–a VHF air band transceiver (for talking to arrivals), a Nextel phone (for calling the temporary FAA control tower across the field), and a portable transceiver (for talking to other AOPA staffers)–was pretty silent. There were two missed approaches, however. By 8:30 a.m. the fog burned off, and it was show time!

You get a real insight into the world of air traffic control doing this job. Incoming pilots call me up after leaving the runway, then I give them directions. Twins park at the ends of the hangars, Mooneys park in front of the Frederick Flight Center ramp, all turbine aircraft park on the Landmark ramp, and the rest park on the grass. Even though it’s fairly tame up in the cab, there’s no denying a touch of nervousness when each airplane calls you up. Working with me was Toni Mensching and John Collins from AOPA’s member services division.

I only screwed up once, and I think I got away with it without there being a federal case. I sent a display airplane–a Diamond TwinStar–to a visitor parking area. Realizing my mistake, I had him do a 180, and he followed a golf cart to his site.

Some times it got confusing. Marshallers also have transceivers, so sometimes they jump on ground control duty too. Other times incoming airplanes simply wouldn’t call up at all! Which is OK, as long as they spot the marshallers and follow directions to parking. You see a lot of pilots not wanting to taxi on the grass, but they shouldn’t worry. AOPA has checked out the grass areas and the surfaces are pretty bump-free. Low-slung airplanes–like Mooneys–get their own, well-rolled and maintained grass parking so they don’t have to fret about prop strikes.

In all, I worked about 20 airplanes. By the end of my tour temperatures were heading for the 90s, and more and more airplanes were on approaches to runways 30 and 23. Time to leave the relative cool and breezy tower cab and cruise the displays!

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One Response to “The Tower’s-eye View”

  1. Jacque La Valle Says:

    First I’d like to say what an outstanding event the AOPA Open House was. This was probably my 10th Fly-In to Frederick and as usual, I was not disappointed.

    But I do have some comments on the ATC and ground folks. Upon arrival we were on the ILS 23 approach and had called the one mile final as requested. At the same time a Piper was also on a one mile final to 30. From our view point, we were on a collision course with the Piper. Upon advising the tower of our situation, the youngster (I assume a CAP Cadet) began stuttering on the radio, calling the Piper to turn base or telling us to do something with plenty of Uhs and Ums. Finally, an authorative voice graced the airwaves, asking the Piper to breakoff and clearing our IFR Cessna for landing. Great job by who ever that was taking command.

    Our departure was no easier either. We had an IFR placard on the windscreen, an IFR clearance and clearance to taxi to 23. Once we arrived at the intersection of Taxiway Alpha and Runway 30, the lineman directed us to turn left on 30. Once realizing our mistake, we called the tower to announce the error. Luckily, they released us to depart on 30. I do have to fess up and say that I errored on the radio stating that we were on runway 5 instead of 30. All in all, it was a confusing time in the FDK airport environment. My recommendation is that trained personnel be used in the tower and likewise, I will become better prepared for my next arrival to FDK in 2009. Thanks for all you do and keep up the good work.

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