While doing a Bay Tour this weekend, I had an interesting first-time-aviation-experience ™.
First-time-aviation-experiences ™ tend to cause much after-the-fact pondering, because they typically turn out one of two ways:
a. Everything goes okay, you make it back to the earth, and you have a war story to tell in the hanger next time when it’s IFR and rainy and everyone’s having a beer instead of flying.
2. It… uhhh… doesn’t go so okay… and for some value of “doesn’t matter anymore,” it… well… doesn’t matter anymore.
I’ve had a couple of “first-time-aviation” experiences (mostly as a student pilot) that [I now sorta laugh at, but] at the time, they were a big deal.
While on the tour this weekend, we hit some pretty bad turbulence around Mount San Bruno, near San Francisco International. It was so bad, in fact, that we dropped about 400 feet in ten seconds1. Arguably2, I did precisely the right thing, and sacrificed altitude for attitude control of the aircraft, but at the expense of… comfortable flying.
It turned out to be a problem for one of my passengers.3
In retrospect, while the experience wasn’t really all that big of a deal4,5, it did present a new situation which I haven’t had to deal with yet: “How do I get this plane on the ground, as soon as possible, in crowded airspace?” It turns out the exercise is useful for dealing with “other conditions”6 which pilots must be prepared at anytime to deal with.
To narrate this experience, I isolated7 an air traffic control clip from Saturday’s flight; it’s about three minutes long, and you can hear us—Cessna seven-five-one-sierra-papa—talking to San Francisco Tower and NORCAL Departure8:
2:40 96 kbps MP3.
The relevant portion starts about two minutes into the clip:
Me: Uhh, NORCAL, Cessna seven-five-one-sierra-papa, we need uhh… to do uhh… landing in Oakland, uhm so we’re turning towards Oakland, we don’t have the numbers.
NORCAL Departure: Cessna seven-five-one-sierra-papa, okay, is everything okay?
Me: Uhh, yah, we just uhh… have someone who’s not feeling great, so we’re gonna land in Oakland real quick before going back to Palo Alto.
NORCAL Departure: Okay, let me uhh… see if I can get direct for you. Air Canada five-eighty-one, fly heading three-four-zero, proceed direct Red Bluff when able.
Air Canada 581: Heading three-four-zero, Red Bluff when able, Air Canada five-eighty-one.
NORCAL Departure: seven-five-one-sierra-papa, you may proceed direct, altitude your discretion, contact Oakland Tower on one-one-eight-point-three, have a good day.
Me: Thanks for your help, direct Oakland, eighteen-three for the Tower, seven-five-one-sierra-papa.
What’s interesting about this interaction9 is that the air traffic controller basically cleared us directly under Oakland Airport’s departure path, so that we could get on the ground sooner (about half the time it would normally take). It required a measurable amount of extra work on her part to call Oakland Tower on the telephone and request—and receive—a clearance for us to fly directly to the airport. When we got there, we were put ahead of the line to land.
This is one element of our air traffic control system that just always amazes me and gives me warm fuzzies at the same time: you can be a two-seater 152, but the second you declare an emergency, they’ll push 747s full of people out of your way if you need them to.
I’ve heard it happen.
In many ways, it reminds me of one of the most important aspects, in my opinion, of the Mozilla Community which is so hard to convey to others, but which makes being part of and involved in our Community so rewarding.
1 Do the math on the acceleration.
2 Justin is the only one arguing with me…
3 It should be made clear: the passenger was apologetic to a fault which, while endearing, was unnecessary. I tried to reassure them by recounting the story of life as a student pilot, where I continuously got sick every time we tried to do “ground reference maneuvers.”
4 The failure condition, while somewhat… uhh… disgusting… wasn’t life-threatening, really.
5 But I’m sure it was a big deal for the passenger in the back seat
6 ENGINE FAILURE
7 Which is a fancy way of saying I removed all the other stuff so it looks like navigating San Francisco Airport’s airspace is really friggin’ easy.
8 For some reason, all my friends comment that I sound “butch”—their words, not mine— on the radio. My instructor claimed I sound like a “grizzled Eastern Airlines captain.” I really don’t see it.
9 I’ve italicized the relevant statements.