Posts Tagged ‘control tower’

Report your position, please and thank you

Monday, June 8th, 2015

fdk-towerFrederick Municipal Airport (FDK) became Class D airspace in May 2012. (Three years already? Where has the time gone?) Judging on feedback during a friendly get-together last week between control tower personnel and local pilots, we pilots need to brush up on our communications and directional skills.

Here are some of the issues our controllers raised. While these are specific to FDK, your local controllers may have these on their wish lists as well.

  • Taxi instructions: Make sure you read back your taxi instructions and runway assignment, “else we’re going to pester you until we get those.” Also, when calling for taxi instructions, be ready to actually start taxiing.
  • In the pattern: FDK controllers will invariably instruct us to report mid-field downwind at each pass. They would also like us to indicate how the approach will terminate—is it full stop? touch and go? full stop taxi back? Each of these has an impact on traffic flow. “You’d be surprised how many people get in the pattern and never express their intention.”
  • Position reports: Be as accurate as possible. FDK controllers don’t have radar and can’t easily spot aircraft until they’re three miles from the airport. If we tell them we’re northeast of the airport and we’re actually north (or—worse—northwest), that affects their ability to locate and sequence us. Along these lines, the controllers suggested giving an altitude report so that aircraft in our vicinity, who may not be communicating with the tower but are monitoring the frequency, will know where to look for us.
  • Position reports, part two: “If you’re in the west practice area heading back to the airport, and your compass reads 090, you are not east of the airport.” ‘Nuff said (though I sometimes have to remind myself to look at the bottom of the directional gyro when reporting my position).
  • Read airport notices to airmen. “You would not believe how many people do not.”

I’m glad we had a chance to hear from the folks on the other side of the microphone. If you fly out of a tower-controlled airport, what do you think is on your controllers’ minds? Controllers, we want to hear from you.—Jill W. Tallman

Dumb things pilots have done, part I

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

This is a random series of dumb, sometimes just “plane” stupid, and often funny (in retrospect) things that pilots have done. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to the order. But looking back over more than 20 years I’ve been flying, I’ve seen—or heard first hand—some real doozies. These are some of my favorites.

Tried to leave, but couldn’t. One pilot, a student, forgot to untie the tail of the Cessna 152. He started it up, did his After Start checklist, and with his instructor’s consent, juiced the throttle. The nose immediately jerked, went up a bit, and then came back down as the airplane rolled backwards a bit. The CFI had not seen that the tail rope was still tied either, but immediately figured it out. He also acted as though he let all of this happen: “Don’t make me do that to you again! Now, shut this airplane down, and go untie the rope. I hope you’ve learned something!”

At least he was a quick thinker.

Left, but shouldn’t have. Airline crews have certain things that they simply can not leave without. The maintenance log is one of them. I’ve heard of several captains, though, who have, and if they are lucky, they take off, get a radio call before they get too far away, and return to the airport. The tower usually knows what’s going on, and they take enormous pleasure in introducing the world to Captain Forgetful. It’s never happened to me, but I can only imagine what the speech to the passengers is like, let alone the explanation to the chief pilot.

What’s worse is when the crew gets where they are going, and then a special ferry flight has to be scheduled if the company can’t get the logbook onto another flight to XYZ.

As a result, guys come up with all kinds of reminders to make sure that they don’t make this mistake: turning screens off, moving their rudder pedals out of reach, writing notes on their clips or their hands. Hey, whatever works.

Left, but he shouldn’t have, Part II. Did you ever try to retract the landing gear, only to find that you didn’t remove the gear pins? Me either, but others have. The pins are put in to move the airplane after the hydraulic systems depressurize. But even modern hydraulic systems can’t overcome those pins. About the time you notice it, the tower can see the “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” flags flapping the slipstream. “Hey, did you guys know…?”

Maybe they’ll get the chief pilot mentioned below.

Left…the engine running. This has happened twice that I know of. The first time, jets were new to the property and the crew left for the hotel. Upon arriving in his room, the captain got a phone call from the station. He talked the station through the shutdown procedure, and went to bed. Rumor is the company never knew.

The second time (different captain), the company and the FAA got wind of it, and the captain had to do the carpet dance, as he had several thousand hours in the aircraft. Not too long after, he became the chief pilot. Go figure.

In part II, Chip Wright will share incidents that illustrate how the FAA has eyes in the back of its head, and much more.–Ed.

Balloons and ATC

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

During the July 2012 Flight Training Facebook chat, Samer asked:

“Every once in awhile, I fly to a Class D airport (besides the one I’m based out of) and I’ve experienced sharing the sky with balloons, which is no problem, but is the tower always aware of their intentions? In other terms, do they have to report their position to the tower? If not, maybe I need to begin scanning the woodline below me for these piloted balloons.”

Our air traffic control specialist Aaron Pifer replied, “Class D airports ‘visually separate’ aircraft from other aircraft unless they have radar feeds. The intent is usually pretty basic: take off, climb to whatever altitude, and go where the wind tells them to. The balloon pilots usually have handhelds or have some sort of pre-coordinated plans with the tower via telephone.”

We happen to have a hot air balloon pilot based here at Frederick Municipal Airport (which is now in Class D airspace), and so I gave him a call to follow up on this question. Patrick Smith operates Tailwinds Over Frederick.

“We’re an aircraft, and we have to make contact with the tower just like a glider” or powered airplane, Patrick explained. “I call them before I inflate. I have to get a clearance before I take off. We stay in contact.”

As Aaron mentioned, Patrick uses a handheld transceiver to communicate with the tower. “If my altitude changes, I give them an ‘altitude and below.’ I give them a call when I land or when I’m starting to look for a landing spot, just to let them know they might lose sight of me.”

The Tailwinds balloon is a common sight at KFDK, and is just another interesting part of our mix of aircraft, which includes fixed- and rotary-wing, gliders, gyrocopters, and the occasional visit from the Goodyear, Outback, and MetLife blimps. Variety is the spice of life…and airports!—By Jill W. Tallman