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03 July 2015

SR-71 vs F-16

What I’ve been doing when I should have been writing:

  • Reading The Martian (highly recommend!!)
  • Finishing the edits for the next Why Planes Crash e-book (want early access? Join the mailing list!)
  • Working on a redesign for the website (coming soon!)
  • Drafting two complicated accident reports (still in progress)

I am sorry that I haven’t managed to finish a new article for you this week but I did love this image which has been making the rounds. Based on the tone, I’m pretty sure this is Brian Shul’s story.

Also, did you know that the entire SR-71 Flight Manual is now available online?

So, that should keep you occupied until next Friday! See you then.

15 May 2015

ATC Humour

I may have spent too much time reading silly threads on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNe). Specifically, there’s a great thread of ATC Humour with a great mix of classic jokes and personal stories. It’s eighty pages long! However, I read the whole thing so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

My sense of humour is sometimes very questionable. Also, some of these are very English, and I’ll leave it to the readers to explain those in the comments.

With that proviso, I bring you the best of PPRuNe ATC humour (some edits included to protect the innocent)!

Pilot: I think I suffered a birdstrike. Did you see where it hit?

Controller: Just below the beak but I think it’s all right.

Private Pilot: I need a little help as I am not sure of my position
ATC: Roger. Set 1234 on your transponder
Private Pilot: OK

—long pause–

ATC: I don’t see you in any of my sectors. Where was the last place you were sure of your position?

Private Pilot: Holding short runway 34

Confused British Airways pilot in Thailand: Bangbird, this is Speedcock….

ATC: Clipper 123, what’s the turbulence like at your level?
Clipper 123: Well …how shall I put it? The Captain’s just stuck his fork up his nose.
ATC: TWA 789, what’s the turbulence like at your level?
TWA 789: I don’t know, we haven’t eaten yet.

A cargo plane was flying the same route night after night and after while went in with approach of destination airport (around dusk) with the same joke.

Flight 123: Tower, guess who’s coming?

Each time the tower asked him to identify himself clearly on the frequency instead of joking, never succeeded…until that day in winter:

Flight 123: Tower, guess who’s coming?
Tower controller: (turning off the runway lights) Flight 123, guess where we are now…

From that day, the story says that this cargo pilot always identified when contacting the tower.

A University Air Squadron Bulldog holding for the grass runway:

Charlie 01: Tower, Charlie 01, we have a large flock of plovers by the threshold
Tower: Charlie 01, say again?
Charlie 01: We have a large flock of plovers by the threshold
Tower: A large flock of what?
Charlie 01: *sigh* Birds.

Aeroflot routing to Ireland and then on to Cuba at time of tension…

ATCO: Aeroflot 123, do you carry transponder?
Aeroflot: Negative sir, we only carry agricultural equipment

In the days that the Red Devils used to parachute over Queens Parade and work TMA south for entry into controlled airspace, a Qantas jumbo on a Southhampton departure on a sunny day made an anxious report.

Qantas: Hey, London, there’s an aircraft on our left hand side and there’s people falling out of it.
Controller: Is it a red islander?
Qantas: Blimey, that’s good radar!

There are two approaches into airfields near Boston; here are the waypoints:


Trainee controller: Cessna 172 calling, say again your callsign and type of aircraft.

Approx 4:00 AM one morning

India X-ray Charlie India X-ray Charlie request.
Brisbane: Go ahead.
India X-ray Charlie Roger, I seem to have left my flight plan in the fax machine at home. Don’t suppose you could give me my flight details.

(After a minute’s pause)

Brisbane: (laughing) India X-ray Charlie we can do that for you. You have departed Weipa.

(Another pause )

India X-ray Charlie: Ahh…roger, I kinda know that much.
Brisbane: (still laughing) You are off to Cairns.

(Another pause)

India X-ray Charlie: You guys are going to drag this out for a while just to embarrass me, aren’t you.

This went on for a while, eventually the rest of the details were also given.

Two J41 aircraft inbound to the field, the first aircraft established inbound on the ILS, second aircraft reports visual with the field requesting a visual approach.

ATC: Are you visual with the company Jetstream in your 1 o’clock, range 6 miles?
J41: Negative. Are you sure you mean in my 1 o’clock?
ATC: Try looking to the right of your 12 o’clock.
J41: Visual.

O’Hare Approach Control: United 329 heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o’clock, three miles, eastbound.

United 239: Approach, I’ve always wanted to say this… I’ve got the little Fokker in sight.

Detroit Radio: Number aboard?
N1234: Two
Detroit Radio: Color?
N1234: Uh…white males.

The other day at Hamilton, New Zealand (NZHN 122.9MHz) there was a female trainee controller on the frequency (every now and then you could hear her OJTI (instructor) talking in the background).

The controller had a C206 transitting the Control Zone to the south (ZK-EJE) and a 152 (ZK-EJZ – similar callsign) taxiing on the ground. Needing to check the position of the C206 (ZK-EJE) before clearing a southbound Saab 340 for takeoff the following was heard:

Trainee ATCO: Echo Juliet Zulu, report level and position
ZK-EJZ (a particularly quick thinking instructor): 172feet (aerodrome elevation) at Holding Point Charlie
Trainee ATCO: Uh…Roger? [sounds of raucous laughter from the instructor in the background]

For the next few minutes every time the trainee spoke you could hear the instructor wetting himself in the background.

London Air Traffic Control Centre controller was asked some time before to accept a pair of Blackburn Buccaneers.

Civilian LATCC controller: Where are my Buccaneers?
LATCC Military controller: Under your Buccan headset!

A couple of years ago, a A300 ST Beluga checking in :

Beluga: Hello Bordeaux, this is Super Transporter F-AD, with you FL330.
Bordeaux: Super Transporter AD, bonjour. This is Super Controller speaking!

Flight SWR 101 was normally a B747 inbound to Zurich from JFK. ACC called the approach controller and told them that flight SWR 101 was coming in with only 3 engines today. In fact, it was an MD-11 that day, a three-engine wide-body jet.

The Approach Controller immediately notified the fire brigade and everything was prepared for a one engine out landing with a 747. The pilots didn’t notice when the approach controller told them that the fire brigade was ready, and the fire brigade was pretty upset when they saw an MD-11 on final approach.

A DC-10 had an exceedingly long roll out after landing with his approach speed a little high.

San Jose Tower: American 751 heavy, turn right at the end of the runway, if able. If not able, take the Guadalupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport.

On the airline frequency:

Flight crew: None of our toilets are working. Can we have permission to give the passengers complimentary drinks?

A Dan Air flight is running late into Aberdeen and he eventually changes from Scottish to Aberdeen Approach.

A/C: Aberdeen, good day. It’s the f*****g Dan Air 123.

An uncomfortable pause lasts for a few moments and the controller eventually responds as he would normally would. However despite the controller using the correct call-sign the pilot operating the R/T still persisted in saying ‘F*****g Dan Air 123′.

The flight was handed over to the tower frequency and the pilot continued to use this ‘modified’ callsign. The tower controller was just as surprised as their colleague was on approach but nevertheless the pilot continued to use the modified callsign right until the aircraft taxied onto stand.

When the aircraft pulled onto stand the pilot called tower and suggested that they should listen to the current ATIS.

The ATIS was recorded as normal however in the background you could hear a certain Approach controller shout out ‘Where is that F******g Dan Air’.

Cockpit: The first officer says he’s got the runway in sight.
ATC: Roger, the first officer’s cleared for a visual approach runway 27…You continue on that 180 heading and descend to three thousand.

Your story is almost true but here is the official version. I know as I was that controller. The Blackbird was competing in a race from overhead New York to overhead London and I was briefed to ‘clock’ it in as it passed overhead London. (I was a military ATCO covering the London overhead at the time – 1972) The Blackbird was out of primary radar cover so I was tracking it on SSR. As it passed over London heading East I gave it a left turn for Mildenhall and then watched aghast as it commenced it’s very very wide turn and disappeared towards Holland descending through a very high Mode C readout. Being a smart ATCO I instructed the pilot to ‘strangle his parrot’ and report when steady heading 270. When he did I asked him to report his altitude and then told him to continue. After a bit of dead reckoning I instructed him to squawk my code and picked him up over the North Sea about 30 miles east of Gt Yarmouth at about FL 330 descending !! God knows how far he had penetrated German airspace but with no SSR and probably above their primary cover maybe I had got away with it. There is one other ATCO who knows the story but you won’t tell will you Pete ?

Radar controller in a sticky situation: two a/c, parallel vectored but on the wrong sides. No chance of a vertical solution or a ‘make a 360′ solution due to traffic behind.

ATC: a/c 1, do you see the a/c on your right?
a/c1: Affirm
ATC: a/c 2, do you see the a/c on your left?
a/c2: Affirm
ATC: You guys able to maintain VFR for the next 1 min?
a/c1: Affirm
a/c2: Affirm
ATC: OK, now swap!

The amazing thing was that they actually did!

Tower: Eastern 702, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on 124.7

Eastern 702: Tower, Eastern 702 switching to Departure. By the way, after we lifted off we saw some kind of dead animal on the far end of the runway.

Tower: Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on 124.7.Did you copy that report from Eastern 702?

Continental 635: Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, roger; and yes, we copied Eastern and we’ve already notified our caterers…

Aircraft taxying to terminal after landing 04 used to pass quite close to the tower. One old time pilot whose voice we all knew used to flip us the finger as he said g’day on his way past (I think it might have actually been two fingers in those days). Of course we all knew the routine and gave a mass showing of fingers thrusting skyward.

It was only later we found that he had just made a PA announcement: “If those passengers on the left hand side of the aircraft look out the window now, they’ll see the friendly boys in the tower hard at work…”

Back in the early 1960s Gloster Gladiator G-AMRK was going from A to B when the engine quit (I think it was somewhere near Bedford). He put out a Mayday and asked to be pointed at the nearest airfield.

ATC: What type of aircraft are you?
Pilot: Gloster Gladiator.
ATC: This is really not the time to be funny.
Pilot: If you were stuck up here in the last flyable Gloster Gladiator in the world without an engine I doubt you would find it at all funny!

They got him down.

ATC: Aeroflot XXX proceed direct VUT.

Aeroflot: Ummm… say again?

ATC: Aeroflot, present position direct Victor Uniform Tango.

Aeroflot: Roger, proceeding direct WHISKY UNIFORM TANGO.

ATC: NEGATIVE! It’s VODKA Uniform Tango!

An AA 757 is coming out of the AA terminal cul-de-sac at high speed, checking in on the TWR frequency. Controller asks: “Why the hurry?” and the reply, although a bit garbled, sounds exactly like “I have a dangerous cargo”.

“Okay,” thinks our hero, “better give this guy priority in the departure sequence.” This is done and furthermore a message about this particular flight having a dangerous cargo is passed along down the line thru the ATC system.

The flight reaches O’Hare airport in record time.

Tower: AAxxx, would you need any special assistance when parking?
American Airlines pilot: Errr, no. Why d’ya ask? (sounding quite baffled)
Tower: Well, understand that you told JFK TWR that you had a dangerous cargo…
American Airlines pilot: Nonono! I said I have a date in Chicago!

Experienced some months ago while approaching to land a helicopter at a busy English airfield…

TOWER: PA28 G-XXXX cleared to land 04 Hard.
G-XXXX: Cleared to land 04 Hard G-XXXX.
TOWER: Helicopter G-YYYY cleared to land 04 Grass and watch for inbound PA28 on finals.
ME: Clear land 04 Grass – looking.
TOWER: He’s behind you.
SOME WAG ON FREQUENCY: Oh no he’s not…

I was laughing so hard I couldn’t hover.

Early morning at Frankfurt:

Speedbird 123: Request taxi.
Tower: Negative Speedbird 123, hold position.
Lufthansa 456: Request taxi.
Tower: Clear taxi, Lufthansa 456.
Speedbird 123: Request taxi.
Tower: Negative 123, hold position.
Lufthansa 789: Request taxi.
Tower: Clear taxi, Lufthansa 789
Speedbird 123: Why are we still holding?
Lufthansa 789: German pilots get up early and put their towels on the end of the runway.

Air Force One (B707/C-137) was visiting UK back in the 1960s. Crusty old Colonel captain decides to visit a few RAF airfields to do some crew training. These were the days before secondary radar.

Air Force One: Air Force One checking in and requesting a precision approach radar.
RAF: Roger Air Force One, can I have your present position, heading and height?
Air Force One: Look buddy, you’ve got the goddamn radar, you find us!

After a couple of identification turns Air Force One is now on dog leg to finals.

RAF: Air Force One you are now on dog leg to finals, just confirm your aircraft is multi-channel VHF equipped?
Air Force One: Affirmative
RAF:Right then old boy, you find the Final Controller!

Two jets were leaving on the same heading: BE200 at FL 70 and A340 at FL 80 about 4 miles behind but going much faster. As the Airbus caught up to the King Air and the returns on the radar merged, a meek little voice was heard.

“It’s gone awful dark…….”

A PAN AM 747 suffers an engine failure on rotation at LHR:

PILOT: Err ah Clipper 123, we are going to continue straight ahead runway heading and dump some gas.
CONTROLLER: Are you aware, sir, that your current heading takes you over Windsor Castle where her Majesty is currently in residence?
PILOT: (quick as a flash) Ask her majesty, does she just want the gas or the airplane and the gas?

A colleague heard the following recently on the way into Schiphol.

AMS Controller: Continental give me a good rate please through FL100?
Continental: Well sir, we are doing 2000 feet per minute.
AMS Controller: Could you make it 3000 feet per minute?
Continental : No sir.
AMS Controller: Oh, do you not have a speedbrake?
Continental: Yes sir, I do, but that is for MY mistakes, not for yours!

RADAR: November 12345, VFR traffic on your 12 o’clock, range two miles.
A/C: No, the traffic is actually a flock of Canada Geese!
RADAR: Well, the geese are squawking 1200.

A Tucano is a two-seater turboprop trainer. On a London north bank sector many moons ago, one of the first Tucanos was trundling around on airways when the pilot advised that an immediate diversion was required because of engine trouble.

Trainee controller not quite conversant with aircraft type: State persons on board and which engine is giving trouble.

Arguably one of the greatest responses came back:

“Me and it.”

Know any more? Leave ’em in the comments!

13 February 2015

Homemade Gyro-Rocket-Copter Thing

When I first saw the reference to “Insane Homebrew Rocket” I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

I’m still not sure what to think. I have to concede that it flies but I’m really not sure what to class the contraption as. A rocket-copter? One YouTube commenter calls it an orbital launch vehicle with an in-built centrifugation system which sounds a bit more serious than it looks. Or could this be the future of manned space flight?

It seems to have made it 1,500 feet off the ground, which is an amazing height for what looks like a wagon wheel attached to pyrotechnics. It’s one of the most amazing flying objects I think I’ve ever seen launched from a dirt track.

It is apparently based upon a traditional Thai firework launcher and was almost certainly part of the Yasothon Bun Bang Fai Rocket festival where teams create home-made rockets which are launched on the third (and last) day of the festival.

Rocket Festival – Wikipedia

Sunday competition moves on to the launching of Bangfai, judged, in various categories, for apparent height and distance travelled, with extra points for exceptionally beautiful vapour trails Those whose rockets misfire are either covered with mud, or thrown into a mud puddle (that also serves a safety function, as immediate application of cooling mud can reduce severity of burns).

Well, no mud for this team, their rocket is clearly an unqualified success!

You can see read more and see photographs of the festival here: Gallery: Thailand’s wildest event, the Bun Bangfai rocket festival | CNN Travel

23 January 2015

Actual Search Terms for Fear of Landing

One of the odd and amusing things about running Fear of Landing is discovering how visitors found the website. My favourite report is the search engine terms. If someone searches on key words or a phrase and then my website comes up in the list of relevant sites, they can click straight through to Fear of Landing and I get a record of what they were searching for when they found me.

A lot of these are exactly what you’d expect for a website like mine: searches on specific crashes or questions to do with aviation. Sometimes, though, it gets a little bit odd. Here’s the highlights of search terms that lead to Fear of Landing in 2014.

Most common searches

  • Boston John
  • Red Arrows
  • Vesna Vulovic
  • George Aird

Someone who couldn’t quite remember the name of my blog

  • scared of landing visit to blackpool airport atc

Multiple searches which led searchers to the wrong site (is this a thing?)

  • sexy nude skydiving stewardess

Search that I should know the answer to but don’t

  • what is the largest plane that can land at swansea airport

A searching question

  • flying into an area unknown to you, the approach procedure goes below the required visual and weather minimums – the captain elects to continue saying he has flown the procedure ‘numerous times’ – what would you do

Searches that will probably never be answered on Fear of Landing

  • what are best ever sex stories with air hostess in hindi
  • shark tail how it prevents dipping of its snout (mechanics)

Least useful keywords for a perfectly valid search

  • at what time (local) did the ups flight depart dubai international airport on its fateful last flight on

Search most likely to end up as an exam question

  • an airplane is flying at 450km/hr at a constant altitude of 5km. It is approaching a camera mounted on the ground

Search from pilot who is seriously planning ahead

  • which aircraft have more ability to land on a flooded runway between boeing 737-800 and airbus 319 320

Search most in need of more details

  • why didn’t pilot try to make it to ho chi ming for emergency landing

Quiz night search

  • do planes land with or against traffic on emergency landings in the street

Most unexpected search

  • women wearing masks breathing hard flickr

Search pilot should have made BEFORE the flight

  • what will happen if I infringed controlled airspace

Bragging search (My boyfriend has done this too)

  • i slept with a pilot

Important search that I just can’t help with

  • con man? a man with a british accent from california claims he is a ww2 pilot

And finally…

Search most likely to inspire me to write a new article

  • are the birds of prey at prestwick airport trained not to fly away

To be fair, the report results actually show that most of you are sane and interested aviation enthusiasts. But now and then, I have to admit, I have to wonder…

09 January 2015

A Drone and the Man who Loves It

I have posted a few times about the dangers of drones but this video shows what can be done with a remote controlled model aircraft. It has everything: suspense, intrigue and action. It’s the touching story between a drone at the edge of its life and the Dutchman who loves it.

Zwier Spanjer got a DJI Phantom 2 for Christmas and spent the day flying it around the local park in the Netherlands. He was having so much fun, he forgot to watch the power.

Just watch:

When the DJI gets low on power, it goes into auto-land mode which is why it is slowly descending. You can see the owner and his friends watching from the street.

Of course, someone has already done a Whitney Houston homage:

I know I complain about reckless usage of these now that they’ve become affordable and popular but I do love the camera footage that comes from them!

26 December 2014

Most Popular Aviation Pieces in 2014

Long dark nights are slowly receding as we pass the winter solstice and head back towards Spring. I can tell you, I’m seriously looking forward to 2015: I have great expectation of fun projects and lots of writing and hopefully even a bit of flying.

This year’s most popular posts are an interesting mix as quite a few of them were not posted this year. They gained belated attention through posts on aviation message boards, Reddit and searches for information, which means some unexpected posts like those in the history category did especially well.

I made one change: I didn’t count posts to do with MH370 and MH17. I feel these were high at the time as we all tried to make sense of the mystery of the disappearing aircraft but they have not been updated since the initial posts and may now hold information that has since been corrected. None of them appears in the top posts of the last few months, that is, there was a spike of interest which has now receded.

(Obligatory pitch: if you are interested in reading more about MH370, then take a look at my book, The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It does not cover the last few months of search news but the details of the flight and the list of theories regarding the aircraft’s disappearance are completely up-to-date.)

So, here are the posts which were the most popular in 2014!

Number One: The Story Behind an Unbelievable Photograph

I wrote this November 2013 because I loved the photograph and wanted to know how it happened. Clearly, a lot of people have the same question: it has turned out to be my most popular post ever.

Number Two: Boston John

Air Traffic Controller John Melecio, also known as “Boston John,” is one of the most famous ATC controllers today. When he was controlling from Boston Tower, he was always lively and humorous, gathering a following all over the world. Listeners on posted to the forums whenever he was on air so fans could tune in and hear him live.

When I wrote about John Melecio, I didn’t realise he was quite that famous but two years later, this post is one of the most often linked to from avation groups talking about ATC.

Number Three: FAA Approved?

I found this on an aviation forum and I just can’t stop staring at the photographs.

This is the sixth year in a row that this series of photographs is in my top five posts. I have to admit, I never get tired of looking at his repairs.

Number Four: Overloaded, Overspeed and Out of Fuel

The situation started quietly: a Boeing 757 inbound to Newcastle International Airport (NCL) was asked to do a go around: break off the approach and try again.

The Thomas Cook aircraft was a Boeing 757-237 registration G-TCBC. There were seven crew on board and 235 passengers. The crew was scheduled for an early morning flight from Newcastle to the Canary Islands, landing at Fuerteventura and returning to Newcastle that afternoon. They could expect to be home for suppertime.

At less than a month old, I’m surprised to see this accident report in the top ten, but it is a hard-to-believe incident in which a relatively standard sequence of events almost turned into disaster.

Number Five: Six Exclamations You Never Want to Hear in the Cockpit

“Have You Ever Done a Barrel Roll in the Dark?”

This was a selection of six accidents with wince-worthy cockpit conversations shortly before things went pear-shaped. Most of these are accidents I covered on the site and I thought I’d try a different way of doing a round-up of interesting accidents. It seems to have worked.

Number Six: B-1B with its Nose to the Ground

On the 5th of October in 1989, a B-1B Lancer departed Dyess Air Force Base with four crew on a routine training flight. Three hours later, the flight crew discovered that the aircraft had a hydraulics fault. As they came in to land at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, the front landing gear failed to lower. They circled the airfield for four hours, twice being refuelled by an airborne tanker, as they struggled to lower the nose wheel. Supporting the crew on the ground were military personal and mechanics for the aircraft manufacturer; however they were unable to resolve the issue.

The video of this landing was released last year and clearly you all found it as fascinating as I did.

Number Seven: A Fun Set of Videos for the Weekend

These are all good-hearted aviation videos which are being passed around that I thought you might enjoy. Surely you can’t have already seen them all!

All I can say is you all must have been seriously bored that weekend…

Number Eight: Pilot Suicides: Fact vs Fiction

One of the claims by Ewan Wilson which is making headlines is that he “found” five flights which he believes were also caused by suicidal pilots.

To clarify, to “find” these cases, you just need to go to the Aviation Safety Network, where there is a list of aircraft accidents caused by pilot suicide. ASN lists nine cases there but Wilson is clearly talking about commercial pilots carrying passengers. That leaves us with five cases, all totally documented.

Each of these five commercial pilots flying a scheduled passenger service is believed (by some investigating bodies, although not all) to have committed suicide, taking their aircraft and their passengers with them: an especially horrifying type of mass murder.

A straight-forward look at five possible pilot suicides in commercial aircraft, in the context of what might have happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370. The hardest part of writing this piece was keeping it short; I could have written so much more detail on any one of the five flights.

Number Nine: Captain Fired After Nose-Wheel Landing

Another relevant point is that the Captain had been watching the approach on the Heads Up Display. The Jeppesen approach plate (11-1) for ILS Runway 4, states that the VGSI [PAPI] and ILS glidepath are not coincident. This means that even coming down perfectly on the PAPI, the aircraft could show as high on the ILS glideslope. The NTSB have so far makes no comment as to whether this may have led the Captain to overreact as the approach appeared higher than it was.

This is an unusual case where the Captain took control of the aircraft at the very last moment and caused the aircraft to land hard on the nose wheel. I wrote this up based on the preliminary reports and am interested to see if the final report offers any further information.

Number Ten: Near Miss at Barcelona

Last week, a plane spotter named Miguel Angel was filming flights coming into Barcelona airport when he captured this video. Five days later, that video has had over 20 million views.

The final report on this incident is still not out, which is a shame. I’d love to know how it happened.

And that’s the top ten posts that you all enjoyed en masse in 2014. If you have a personal favourite post, please tell me in the comments!

Meanwhile, Anna’s busy putting together a set of her favourite aviation pieces from 2014 on Facebook. Keep an eye out for that here: Fear of Landing on Facebook

I hope we have a lot more interesting aviation news and analysis for you in 2015!