for @senecasredoubt and his love of planes. Or rocketships. Or whatever the SR71 was.
Famous troll by an SR71 crew:
There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.
It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.
I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn’t match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury.
Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.
We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied: “November Charlie 175, I’m showing you at ninety knots on the ground.”
Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the ” Houston Center voice.” I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country’s space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that, and that they basically did. And it didn’t matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.
Just moments after the Cessna’s inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed. “I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed.” Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren. Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios. “Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check”. Before Center could reply, I’m thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ol’ Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He’s the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: “Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground.”
And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done – in mere seconds we’ll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now. I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn.
Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet. Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: “Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?” There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. “Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground.”
I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: “Ah, Center, much thanks, we’re showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money.”
For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A.came back with, “Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one.”
It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day’s work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.
For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.
They’d met when Cas had walked into the shop on accident.
Dean had looked up from the finishing touches he was putting on his last
client of the day to find a man he’d never seen before standing in the doorway. He was immediately intrigued. In a
small town like this, it wasn’t common for him to see many newcomers coming
into the shop unless they’d booked in ahead of time. It didn’t hurt that
the guy was hot. He had on pair of tight
black jeans that clung to muscular thighs and a dark blue button up with the sleeves
rolled up to the elbows, revealing unmarked skin – definitely not Dean’s usual
clientele. What caught Dean’s attention
even more was the fact that he had on a pair of aviators, despite the fact that
it had been dark outside for over an hour.
“Can I help you, man?” Dean called out as he turned back to his
The other man didn’t respond, and when he looked up a minute later, Dean saw
that his head was tilted, brow furrowed.
He stood there, seemingly just listening to the sounds of the shop
around him, for a moment before his shoulders slumped, and he heaved a sigh.
“I’m guessing this isn’t a bakery,” the guy finally said, in a
deep voice that was so not what Dean was expecting.
“Uhh, nope,” he said, focus back on the skin and ink in front of
him. “Tattoo shop.”
He was about to open his mouth again to give the guy a hard time about the
glaringly obvious signs advertising tattoos and piercings he had to have passed
on his way in, but luckily he looked back up long enough to register the long
white cane in the other man’s hand and saved himself from having to put his
foot in his mouth.
“Where were you aiming for?” he asked instead.
“Just Desserts Bakery,” came that gravelly voice. “I was told
it was the third shop from the end of this street.”
“Oh yeah, you’re looking for West 5th…this is East. It’s a pretty
common mistake around here.”
When he got nothing but silence from the front of the shop, he continued,
“Look, uh, I’m almost done here. I can show you where it is if you don’t
mind waiting a little bit.”
He heard a sigh of relief before the other man spoke, “That would be
appreciated, thank you.”
“No problem, man. There’s a sofa over to your left if you’d like
to sit or something. Just watch out for the jewelry case in front of you,
With that, Dean started in on his final bit of work for the night.
As a 20-year veteran of the A320 cockpit for a major U.S. airline, including the last 15 in the Captain’s seat, I have cringed at the utter misrepresentation of aviation facts often disseminated by news outlets and their self-proclaimed “aviation experts” endlessly paraded across the TV screen during coverage of the latest air disaster.
Coverage of the tragic crash of Germanwings 9525 has been no exception.
While today’s news suggests that the First Officer deliberately flew his A320 into the ground, until the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) was found and analyzed, worldwide news sources had faced a dearth of data to report on a major news story, and instead filled the gaps with both fantastic, and fantastically inaccurate, fluff.
By nature, as we all wait breathlessly for any morsel of breaking news regarding the fatal crash, our subconscious can’t help but race ahead, and fill the gaps between facts with speculation. In this hyperconnected age, this same speculative fill-in-the-blank occurs collectively, worldwide, via live, 24-hour news feeds such as CNN.
Worse, these very same reporters, who have zero experience with aviation, tend to let their own imaginations fly (excuse the pun.) Recent disasters saw such storied gems as CNN anchor Don Lemon’s “black hole theory” about MH370, promptly one-upped in absurdity by former DOT Inspector General Mary Shaivo’s reply that a “tiny black hole would swallow the entire universe.” Graphs depicting the plane du jour are a comic cavalcade of inaccuracies, such as a four-engine A320, or a double-decker Boeing 737. And let’s not forget such sage scrolling tidbits as, “Boeing 777 will struggle to maintain altitude once the fuel tanks are empty.”
At least, so far, no news source has come up with a Germanwings equivalent of Captain Sum Ting Wong and First Officer Wi Tu Lo.
Seriously, however—and with the deepest condolences and respects to the victims and families of the Germanwings 9525 tragedy—these endless speculations and haphazard reporting have become blackly comical at best, and wildly irresponsible at worst. Families and loved ones of those lost tend to hang on every word disseminated by the international media, and somewhere between Walter Williams and Brian Williams, we seem to have lost that sacred mantra of journalism: that the public journal is a public trust.
To be sure, some highly qualified individuals occasionally grace the TV screen with their pearls of wisdom—international A330 pilot Karlene Petitt, author of Flight to Success, comes to mind. But for every expert, there seems to be some Ya-hoo whose sole qualification is that he watched Airport ’77.
Covering all angles of a news story is one thing, but unhealthy obsession with a single aspect is another. For example, in the first 48 hours after the 9525 crash, news outlets were quick to question the design of the Airbus itself. Known for its high level of automation, this very same design philosophy has come under intense scrutiny. While somewhat justified in the aftermath of Air France 447, it is nevertheless human nature to fear the unknown and, like Stanley Kubrick’s HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, suspicion often falls first on that which is least understood.
When contacted for this piece, Karlene Petitt agreed: “Having flown the A330 around the world for six years, I will stand by the plane and fly it any time. The A330 is extremely stable, and the technology brilliant. It’s only those who don’t understand the technology, that have problems. It’s not the plane. I suppose we fear what we don’t know, but the Airbus should not be one of those fears.”
Yes, mechanical things fail. Yes, an airplane with over 1 million parts and dozens of computers will need regular maintenance. During my recent Skype interview with Qantas A380 Captain Richard De Crespigny, author of QF32 and the captain aboard Flight 32 during an inflight engine explosion, Captain De Crespigny said, “If you want to fly a high-tech airplane, there is a responsibility to understand the systems. Because when those systems fail—and they do fail—it’s up to the pilot to recover.”
Indeed, the Airbus is one of the most high-tech airliners ever built. While it was specifically designed to allow a less-experienced pilot to safely operate, it is incumbent upon every pilot to understand these systems in order to overcome any possible event. But, really, this philosophy applies to any pilot and their aircraft. Regardless of aircraft type, safety always boils down to basic stick and rudder.
OK, enough venting. Let’s set the record straight on this whole Airbus thing. While the latest evidence for Germanwings 9525 points toward pilot suicide, even if this accident did prove to be a design flaw of the Airbus itself, the safety record still ranks the A320 family (A318-A321) in the top five safest airline models of all time. Odds of dying in an A320: 1 in 792 million flights.
Lifetime odds of dying in any airplane: 1 in 11 million.
Lifetime odds of dying in a car: 1 in 77.
Ironically, during an exhaustive CNN panel discussion by aviation experts, Cockpit Confidential author Patrick Smith offered that news channels should avoid obsessive over-speculation about plane crashes. In doing so, Smith says, it exacerbates the misperception of an increasing danger in the skies. Retired American Airlines pilot Jim Tilmon agreed, going further to voice his concerns about discussing—at length and on worldwide feed—security measures in place aboard the world’s airlines.
Captain Tilmon was promptly shouted down by CNN’s “resident aviation expert” Richard Quest. While Quest won AIB’s 2014 “personality of the year,” I fail to see how this qualifies him as an aviation expert. Best I can tell, his expertise in aviation stems from his possession of a very loud and obnoxious English accent, and possession of a passenger seat on the last Concorde’s flight.
I wholeheartedly agree with Smith and Tilmon’s points, especially their concern over airline security. By their very nature, these issues are best left unearthed. By discussing these issues publicly, was airline security compromised? Perhaps not, but it seems we are treading a very hazardous line for the sole purpose of filling a few measly minutes of air time.
In this very column, in an Op Ed on MH370, airline captain Mark Berry, author of 13,760 Feet, said that speculation can be a good thing. I agree, to a point. But when speculation turns to over-speculation, when fill-in-the-speculative-blank becomes its own news story, the media—intentionally or no—begins to fill the public psyche with a false sense of insecurity. Suddenly, air travel is perceived as dangerous. Conceivably, a family planning their vacation might decide to drive instead of fly—and thus increase their risk exponentially.
And that flies square in the face of public trust.
The Boeing 777, already a leader in the long-range market, can now fly literally any route on Earth because a rule change gives the 777 type-design approval for up to 330-minute extended operations (ETOPS). The authorization allows 777 models to fly up to 330 minutes from an alternate airport.
What do you mean they're the same thing? S:
They're both different models.
One has 4 engines, and the other has two. :S
I know one is an A330 (2-engine) and the other one is A340 (4-engine). but they’re actually developed at the same time by Airbus. the same airframe and the same set of wings. see their wiki pages. A330. A340.