Sometimes I write down hilarious things that I heard on the radio to tell you about later. Obviously I have to abbreviate, just put down a couple of notes and then recall the conversation, right? Oh and I often do this in the dark, in turbulence, while not looking at what I'm writing. The results are predictable. I present to you the best transcription I can make of funniest thing someone said on the radio this week. I imagine it was written down while I was controlling the airplane, looking for traffic and laughing hysterically.
You sure GS hazl?
R cicre n moin
I think that's what it says, anyway. It's a good thing it wasn't my clearance.
Controllers here fairly frequently ask aircraft to find airplanes they can't reach on frequency. In the US, "flight following" is avaialble right across the country, but if a low-flying airplane misses a handoff because a transmitter is out and he's too low to receive from a back up, the controller loses radio contact. They'll call another pilot in the right vicinity and ask him to "raise N123RE on 123.75 and tell him to call me on 127.65."
"The military has all the money in the world, and we can't get radios that work," complains one controller. He was working Polk approach, and Polk is a military airfield, but that doesn't mean he was military. If he was he was complaining about military inefficiency that couldn't buy him new radios, but I suspect he was civilian and was comparing resources between military and civilian facilities. I've heard "It's the best we've got" several times when pilots report weak signals. They work very well around the deficiencies. One day I heard controllers telling pilots "Houston approach and landline is out of service." I wasn't going towards Houston, but I found it odd that Houston was contactable neither on approach (i.e. the approach controller's radio frequency) and the landline (i.e. telephone). I wondered if there was a bomb scare or a power failure that had shut down the whole facility. The system is very fault tolerant, however, so Houston Center managed to hand people off to tower without approach, and airplanes got to where they needed to be.
One call stood out well enough that I could interpret my notes. A pilot called to ask what for the nearest airport to her. Was it maybe Newton? The controller said yes, Newton was twelve miles southeast. The urgency of the situation was raised when the pilot asked to confirm that there was nothing nearer. The controller gave her a moment before delicately asking what was wrong. She said she had a sputtering engine, and would "try" to land at Newton, "what is the Unicom frequency there?" The controller said "standby" but I knew the frequency off the top of my head, so transmitted simply, "Newton Unicom is 122.8."
The pilot asked if this was Newton, about three miles off to her left, and after a bit of rescaling to the radar, the controller confirmed that it was. The pilot announced that she was overhead the airport, and switching to Unicom. The controller let her know that he could receive her on the center frequency until almost at the ground there. She should be fine. Drama over.
We switched frequency for a while and then returned to that one. A pilot called in and reported that there were two people talking on guard, but they were just chatting, nothing related to an emergency, and they sounded very far away. At first I thought "Huh?" Was the pilot trying to rat on someone abusing the emergency frequency? I've been let to believe that chatting on 121.5 is quite common in the US, especially by the military. My specialist asked me about it too and I speculated that perhaps he had asked that pilot to monitor 121.5 for a possible ELT activation.
That was confirmed when the controller got a hold of the another pilot who had just taken off from Newton. "Anything unusual at Newton?" the controller asked.
"What? No. Everything was normal."
"Okay, thanks," says the controller.
"There was a flaming pile of wreckage at the south end of the runway, but that's usual for a Tuesday here," I quip to my coworker.
And then to our hilarity the queried pilot adds, "There was a Bonanza landed earlier with engine problems, but no, nothing out of the ordinary." Reminds me of my first aid training. The instructor delighted in an example of a patient born without a limb who has grazed the end of a stump, making first aiders think they were dealing with a traumatic amputation. You have to establish what is normal for the patient. The pilot confirmed that the Bonanza landed without further incident, so that controller was satisfied.
I wondered why the controller hadn't simply asked the Bonanza pilot, as a Canadian one would, "Give us a call when you're on the ground." If I have an emergency or any problem that I've told ATC about, they'll always ask me to call if I'm landing at an unattended field. I'll just call Flight Services, and say, "Hi, this is Aviatrix. I've just landed GABC on one engine at Middle of Nowhere Municipal." The specialist will tell me to hang on and then transfer me to someone who will note down anything he didn't get in the radio exchange that he needs for his paperwork. It's painless. My mission specialist suggests that they don't have a centralized flight services office for a region, and they have so many more airplanes in the sky at any one time, that it wouldn't be practical to link up the data, and that the controller wasn't going to ask a pilot in an emergency to copy a number. I don't buy that, though, because indications from the US Airways landing in the Hudson and the Colgan vanishing over the outer marker, that ATC integrates spectacularly well not only with other FAA agencies but with every other service that they can call into play.
If you ask ATC for assistance or inform them of an irregular situation, do you call them after landing to assure them you're okay? What are the procedures in your country?