TURN AROUND MY WAYWARD SON Today had a disoriented student pilot on his first solo cross country. He was going from Albuquerque, NM to Gallup, NM and finally asked for help after getting way off course heading east towards the Continental Divide. Farmington Tower had me give him a code and I found him, I told them to switch him over to me but the pilot didn’t want to. I assured the tower I wouldn’t bite him and he reluctantly came over. He was obviously a little shaken up and turned around, relying too much on his GPS and not enough on the remaining methods of navigation. I got him pointed towards Farmington and he landed safely. At the time I had at least ten other aircraft on frequency and they were all quiet during this time for the most part. The pilot was embarrassed on the freq about it all, I assured him that I was a former flight instructor, that I’d been there too, along with every other pilot on frequency. I also told him to never hesitate to get flight following, that he’s paying for it, might as well use it.
I DIDN’T HEAR THAT A Dakota pilot admitted to flying through one of the Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR’s) on accident today. He was bound for Denver Centennial and had a course all figured out to miss all the fire TFR’s, but he missed one somewhere along the line, one that he’d gone near or through a couple days before. Together we plotted out a course that would a) avoid the TFR’s, b) avoid the mountains, c) avoid Restricted Area 2601, and d) do it all while staying below the altitudes that require oxygen. Like so many before, I headed him towards Cumbres/La Manga Passes, he knew about them, but wouldn’t say them because he didn’t know how to pronounce them! Sound familiar? (See THE NAME GAME)
RANT MUSIC Okay, the two above examples, and many others in this blog and not in this blog, make me want to rant about something. When pilots are lost or in trouble, who does a supervisor go looking for? A pilot-controller. How many times has/does having pilot experience help get a pilot out of a jam, countless. Percentage of pilots who think a controller also being a pilot is a great help to the system? I’m guessing 100%. DOT/FAA’s programs to encourage controllers to be pilots, or enhanced training to make them better at understanding the cockpit environment, emergency or not? Not anywhere close to enough. The training order allows for Familiarization, FAM, trips. During these trips, whether they be in a cockpit, or to another ATC facility, are not counted against the employee’s vacation time. Take a fam, save some leave. Currently ATC is not allowed in commercial airliners, which the large majority of fams are taken, this due to 9/11. We can rent a plane and fly it and get a fam, but if we do the identical flight in a plane that we own, it is NOT a fam. Any time in a cockpit is invaluable to this occupation, it is the best training available to us. It should only be limited if we have some financial gain (conflict of interest) from doing it, like giving flight instruction, or other commercial operations. Most pilots I talk to are surprised how few controllers are also pilots. This may not change, and not all good pilots would necessarily make good controllers, but we each need to speak and understand each others language and situation, respectively.