Archive for March, 2010

ATC Angels

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Archie-AwardThere are times when the title may seem questionable, especially when the controller’s reality and mine were different. But for the most part, our tax dollars are pretty well invested in the ATC system.  This year was my third as one of the judges for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Archie League Awards. This prestigious award honors the nation’s first air traffic controller and recognizes recipients for going above and beyond what is expected.

In reviewing the submissions you can’t help but be impressed with the talent and commitment these controllers have under extreme pressure when lives are literally hanging in the balance. Each FAA region is allowed one recipient. Top honors this year went to a team of  controllers from the Southern Region and to a King Air flight instructor on his cell phone who provided guidance to private pilot Doug White when his pilot died of a heart attack while the aircraft was on climb out. You can hear it all on ASF’s Real Pilot Story –  Pinch Hitting a King Air.

Audio of the other saves is also available.  It’s worth listening to some of the predicaments that pilots get themselves into.

Air Safety Foundation provided additional recognition with Flight Assist Commendations to other controllers who clearly saved lives of pilots who were in trouble. Rescues included VFR into IMC, icing entanglements  and mechanical mayhem.

I believe FAA should incentivize controllers for becoming pilots and give hiring preference to candidates who are already pilots. Year after year we see saves that could not have been accomplished without some in-cockpit expertise.  Not everyone will agree but from my side of the radar it sure makes sense.

I’ve had several occasions where it was pretty clear that the guy or gal on ground knew exactly what I was facing and was extremely helpful in solving a problem. What about you?

Goin’ to Sun ‘n Fun

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

It’s time for aviation’s Spring Break. Many of us are coming out of hibernation so we may be a bit rusty –  practice BEFORE heading south. Florida is home to some of  the most congested airspace in the country. Between training schools, colleges and universities and just a lot of GA pilots who revel in the sunshine, it’s a great place to fly – as long as you don’t swap paint with another aircraft.

ASF has complied a helpful list of free resources to get you to Sun ‘n Fun safely.

SNFNext week on Thursday April 1, at 8 pm, AOPA Pilot editor-in-chief, Tom Haines will host an ASF webinar on flying into Lakeland for Sun ‘n Fun. If you’re even just contemplating  the trip,  this would be time well spent.  Tom will be joined by a SNF Air Traffic Controller who will have the honor and the anxiety of helping throngs of GA aircraft come and go safely.

I’ll offer a couple of observations from my trips into KLAL during the big show.

1. This can be done by people of normal ability.

2. You must read the SNF Arrival Notam and be familiar.

3. Most pilots are equipped with two ears and one mouth and they should be used in about that proportion – the Notam specifies, to except in an emergency, listen – not talk.

4. See number 2 above.

5. This is a VFR operation so plan on the last 30 miles being VFR in really high density traffic.

6. Most GA collision avoidance gear will be limited in functionality because ATC asks that everyone squawk standby when getting close. That means eyes outside and sterile cockpit.

7. Carry lots of fuel. It’s not unusual to get a 40 minute delay. Declare minimum fuel if you need to and an emergency if you have to, but admit that you didn’t plan well. Always have an out not just a down.

8. You’ll have a great time flying in – just remember that you are PIC and the laws of gravity and aerodynamics do NOT go on Spring Break.

Both Tom and I will be flying down and will be around the big yellow AOPA tent – we look forward to seeing you there.

Join Tom and ASF  for the webinar. We’d love to hear your SNF stories and lessons learned.

Today’s Pilots? Gone to Hell in a Handbasket?

Thursday, March 18th, 2010


Had an interview the other day with another writer who’s putting together a piece regarding some of the problems of professional pilots. The premise is that many have lost that lovin’ feeling when it comes to actually flying the aircraft. The automation pretty much does it all.

There are some cultural things happening. How many of us drive cars with automatic transmissions these days? They are much easier and often more durable.  Do you use a tax prep programs to navigate the horrendously complex tax code or do you tough it out on paper? Who uses calculators? Cromagnon man was in much better physical condition than any one of us according to anthropologists but could he save money on car insurance?

It’s a good topic and got me to thinking.  In jets the autopilot flies the machine most of the time. In today’s high workload cockpits in light aircraft flying without the AP has become an abnormal procedure.

To be sure, the automation is more precise and consistent – assuming it’s programmed well but what about our hand flying skills? I’ll voice three inconsistent thoughts and you can chime in.

1. I think primary flight training, even if you’re ultimately going to fly the Boeing or the Bus, should focus on physical flying skills. Learn crosswinds, learn trim and in IFR training, be able to hand fly an approach. Perhaps too much glass is being introduced too early.

2. Even though many of us walked to school in two feet of snow uphill, both ways, we need to adapt to the times and so there’s a balance. Automation is improving our capacity to handle basic flying tasks while improving situational awareness. Altitude preselect and nav tracking  is extremely handy for single pilot operation.

3. I exercise by handing flying departures and arrivals, when  not too busy, and to hand fly approaches regularly but am not the least reluctant when feeling fatigued or mentally slammed to let George do the honors.