Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blue Angels Video 2007

Here's the video I shot at the Blue Angels homecoming air show a couple of weeks back. I finally got around to putting it up on YouTube. I show some highlights from the show, and finish up with the Blues.


A few words on the music: it's the song "We Rise" by Chris Corner and is from the soundtrack to the 2005 French movie Les Chevaliers du Ciel, or "Knights of the Sky". It's basically a French version of Top Gun, with an equally corny plot, Mirage 2000s instead of F-14 Tomcats, and a couple of goofy looking pilot dudes that make Goose look like a tough guy. It's not exactly Oscar caliber material.

However... the cinematography is absolutely incredible. All of the in-flight shots are actual aircraft - no special effects or computer generated imagery. They built a special camera pod and strapped it on to a Mirage, so that it could follow the other Mirages through numerous maneuvers. There's dogfights over mountains, low level flying over deserts, shots over water, mock combat in the clouds... and it all looks beautiful.

Here's a video somebody cut together of some of the flying scenes in the movie. Remember: this is all real. No special effects, no movie magic.

I don't care who you are, that's just some beautiful footage right there.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Remember that old Nintendo game Excitebike? The one where you raced down a track at full speed, racing other bikers and jumping some insane obstacles?

Looks like someone tried that with an Airbus A340-600.... and failed.

They were apparently doing a pre-delivery full power runup at the Airbus facility when the aircraft broke free and slammed into a blast wall. No word yet on whether it was a brake failure, a restraint failure, or something else.

Unfortunately, 10 people were injured and the plane appears to be a writeoff. Thankfully, no one was killed, which was helped - I'm sure - by the fact that the blast wall was angled. If it had been a vertical wall, things would have been a lot worse for those aboard.

Read the A-NN Article

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Someone asked me this recently: How much paperwork/busywork do you need to do when you're on position?

Firstly, none of it is "busywork". Everything you do has a purpose. Secondly, you do a lot more than just sit there and talk to airplanes. Between stripmarking , ARTS command entries, inter-facility coordination, and intra-facility coordination, you've got a lot to do. The faster you get it done, the better off you'll be. I've actually found the off-frequency work to be one of the biggest challenges I've faced.

Let's run through a very simple morning session at Whiting NAS to the northeast of Pensacola. To start, let me give you some visual aids. As always, you can click a pic to blow it up larger.

Airspace: The area outlined in orange is the sector I've been training on. Depending on the workload, it can be split up into three scopes - the D (departures from NSE), the K (arrivals into NSE), and the Z (arrivals/departures from NDZ). But for the purposes of this blog post, let's assume the workload is relatively light and everything in there is combined up as one big sector.

The aircraft featured are:

T-34C Mentor: The entirety of North Whiting's fleet is composed of these little guys. Based off of the Beech Bonanza, the first one of these guys first took flight in 1948 (!!!). The models they're flying now are updated turboprop "C" models such as this one, but they're still pretty darn old. They cruise around 210 knots or so, but are being replaced by T-6 Texan II's which can hit 310 knots at altitude. The T-34C in the photo is actually from Training Air Wing Five, which is the North Whiting training unit (it says TAW-5 right underneath the tail).

TH-57 Sea Ranger: The Bell 206 in yet another of its many guises. These are the helos out of South Whiting.

The format: Anything that's an action will be in bold, anything that's in yellow is a radio call, and anything in green is a land line call. Also, you'll see [initials] quite often. For those who don't know, every time you make a land line coordination, you're supposed to end it with your initials as a form of verbal signature.

The setup:
I've only got one plane on my scope right now, a T-34 - Red Knight 165 (RN165) - on a base leg to join a TACAN approach for Runway 14 into North Whiting.
  1. Me: "RN165, four miles from final approach fix, turn right heading 110, maintain 1700 until established on the final approach course, cleared TACAN Runway 14 approach. Circle to land runway 5."
  2. RN165: "[Reads back approach clearance.]"
  3. SH281, a VFR pop-up, checks in: "Pensacola Approach, Shooter 281, flight of two T-34s, over Brewton at 3500, with information Hotel."
  4. I look up at Brewton and see him up there at 3500.
  5. I type in "SH281" into the ARTS keyboard and press Enter. It generates a squawk code assigned to that callsign.
  6. Me: "SH281, Pensacola Approach, squawk 0101"
  7. I write SH281 on our traffic count pad, along with his arrival airport "NSE" = North Whiting..
  8. SH281: "Roger, SH281, squawking 0101."
  9. North Whiting tower calls on the shout line: "Departure, tower, non-tag, Blackbird 295." (A non-tag is an aircraft that's taken off without his transponder on or set to a wrong code)
  10. I spot the non-tagged primary target on my scope departing from the airport and observed it within 1 mile of the airport's departure end.
  11. Key up North Whiting tower's direct line.
  12. Me: "Blackbird 295, non-tag, [initials]" to acknowledge and unkey.
  13. I look up on my tab list of departing aircraft to see what code he should be on.
  14. Me: "Blackbird 295, Pensacola departure, radar contact. Check transponder on. Squawk 0142."
  15. BB295: "Pensacola departure, BB295, roger, radar contact. Recycling transponder. Squawk 0142."
  16. I observe SH281 has now popped up near his fix.
  17. Me: "SH281, radar contact 1 mile east of Brewton."
  18. SH281: "Roger, radar contact."
  19. I recall that SH281 is a flight of two. I type "H" and "M" and then click on SH281's target. This puts an "M" in the special modifier section of the datablock so that the tower will know that SH281 has Multiple aircraft.
  20. I observe that VV5E129 is flashing in my Activation List. He is the first one on the list, and therefore letter "A". Aircraft needing activation will typically be on specialized IFR or VFR flight plans and will have strips printed and ready for whenever they activate. Before they can take off, you need to activate their flight plans.
  21. I press the "F13" key, then "A", and press Enter. VV5E129 stops flashing.
  22. In front of me I have three columns of strips. To the far left are the unactivated "proposed" strips, to my immediate left are my activated strips, and to my immediate right are the aircraft that have actually taken off. I move VV5E129's now-activated strip over to my "activated" column of strips.
  23. I see that RN165 is established on the TACAN approach.
  24. Me: "RN165, contact North Whiting Tower."
  25. RN165: "Roger, RN165 switching."
  26. I observe BB295's callsign has popped up properly.
  27. Me: "BB295, Pensacola, transponder appears normal. Say altitude leaving."
  28. BB295: "Leaving 1100 for 4500, BB295."
  29. I verify that his Mode C readout is within 300 feet of what he's reporting.
  30. Me: "Roger."
  31. I observe that RN281, now well into his TACAN final, is getting a low-altitude alert (LA). Our regulations state that we need to inform Whiting tower of any LA alarms.
  32. I key up the Whiting Tower shout line.
  33. Me: "Tower, approach, low altitude alert, RN281, [initials]."
  34. Tower: "RN281, low-altitude alert, [initials]." and I unkey.
  35. I observe VV5E129 (the one I activated earlier) has departed North Whiting. I move VV5E129's strip to my "airborne" column. He is IFR and is requesting 5000 feet eastbound towards the Crestview VOR, and then on to Tallahassee. While most of my sector goes up to 5500 feet, the easternmost 5 miles of my sector only goes up to 3500. The airspace above (where VV5E129 needs to go) is owned by our "E" sector.
  36. I type "**E" and then slew and Enter on VV5E129. This action displays the aircraft on the "E" sector's scope.
  37. I key up the E sector on the landline.
  38. Me: "E, D, point-out."
  39. E: "E."
  40. Me: "1 mile north of Whiting, VV5E129, 5000, Crestview." That tells him:
    • Where he is now.
    • Who he is.
    • How high he wants to go.
    • Where he wants to go.
  41. E: (Scans for a moment) "VV5E129, point-out approved, [initials]."
  42. Me: "[initials]."
  43. I write "50" on VV5E129's strip.
  44. Crestview is located in Eglin Air Force Base's airspace. I type press they key with the triangle-shaped "Delta symbol" and "1", then click on VV5E129. This initiates the handoff to Eglin. A small "V" (for Eglin's identifier "VPS") appears in the datablock indicating the handoff is in progress.
  45. If I feel like it (and if my memory's feeling up to snuff) I file the strip in our completed flights pile. I already know where he's going, what altitude he's climbing to, and who he needs to talk to, so the strip is extraneous clutter at this point.
  46. In short: I handled all the coordination I needed to do before the aircraft even called me. That way:
    • I don't have to stop him at any interim altitude and can send him on his merry way.
    • The handoff's already been initiated, so I just need to wait for Eglin to take it. Then I can switch him at my leisure.
    • I don't have a useless strip distracting me 0n my desk.
  47. VV5E129: "Pensacola departure, VV5E129, climbing through 1200."
  48. Me: "VV5E129, Pensacola departure, climb and maintain 5000. Leaving 3000, turn right direct Crestview."
  49. VV5E129: "Roger, [reads back]."
  50. I observe that helicopter Lucky 082 (LY082)has departed South Whiting.
  51. I move LY082's strip over to my airborne column and see that Flight Data wrote that he wants to do multiple practice PAR approaches at South Whiting. PAR (Precision Approach Radar) approaches require a Navy "GCA" controller to talk the plane down to the runway, using voice commands. This requires special frequencies just for those operations. We have 5 of them which we call "Buttons", each with its own transmitter.
  52. Once again, I want to get ready before LY082 even calls me. I key up the Button 1 transmitter.
  53. I type "PS1" into LY082's scratchpad. P = PAR approach. S = Standard missed approach (since he'll be coming back to us for more approaches). 1 = the Button he's on.
  54. I write a big "1" on LY082's strip, as a secondary reminder of what Button he's on.
  55. I type "B" and click on LY082 to hand him off to the Navy final controller. PAR approaches require you to actually hand the aircraft off to the GCA controller. There, now he's completely cleaned up. All I need to do now is talk to him. :)
  56. LY082: "Pensacola departure, LY082, leaving 1100 for 1700."
  57. Me: "LY082, Pensacola departure, radar contact. Turn left heading 140, vectors PAR approach. Change to my frequency [Button 1 frequency]."
  58. LY082: "Roger, [read back]."
  59. Me: (After I've vectored him around the pattern and put him on a base leg) "LY082, 10 miles from Whiting, turn left heading 360, stand by final controller."
  60. LY082: "Left 360, standing by, LY082."
  61. I key up Whiting's GCA controller.
  62. Me: "GCA, Approach, Button 1, heading 360."
  63. GCA: "Button 1, 360, [initials]." He's already taken the handoff and sees the PS1 in the scratchpad, so he knows who I'm talking about.
  64. Me: "[initials]"
  65. I unkey GCA.
  66. I reach up and turn off the transmitter for Button 1. Otherwise, I'll be interfering with his PAR instructions whenever I transmit. GCA turns him on to the final.
  67. I see that VV5E129's only has a few miles to go before leaving my airspace, and that Eglin has taken the handoff.
  68. Me: "VV5E129, contact Eglin approach on [frequency]."
  69. VV5E129: "Switching to Eglin on [frequency], VV5E129."
  70. .... and the session continues ....
That's just with four aircraft. We've had it where we'll get the following simultaneously:
  • North Whiting launching a dozen T-34s going every which way, with half of them being non-tags that need to be deal with and the other half needing special instructions.
  • Groups of T-34s recovering from all directions to North Whiting, with many of them wanting something special for an approach.
  • Half a dozen helos and T-34s doing a roundy-round the GCA pattern down by South Whiting, requesting multiple PAR, ILS, ASR, or TACAN approaches.
  • Four or five VFR pop ups off of Milton wanting to go to various practice areas.
  • A dash of low-level GA departures out of the Pensacola East sector.
By then you've got yourself a party! If staffing isn't an issue, one or two of the other scopes will have been opened up to alleviate some of the workload.

Hopefully the above example makes some kind of sense and gives you an idea of the paperwork/coordination involved both within and outside the facility.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Blues

I went to the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show today. Man, that was fun. I haven't seen the Blues perform since I was a kid, so it was great seeing them in action again.

Oh, and the "sneak pass" is still the absolute shizzle. That's where Blues 1 through 4 complete one of their formation maneuvers and start drifting off to the side. The announcer comes on, saying, "Watch how the foursome rearranges itself into the diamond formation..." Of course you're looking at the four fading off into the distance.

But then, right when you've been misdirected, a Blue Angel soloist comes hurtling down the runway opposite from where you're looking, afterburners on, startling the hell out of everyone. At the same time, the other Blue Angel soloist roars in from behind the crowd, over your head, kicking those involuntary "hit the deck" reflexes into gear. It drives everyone wild, especially if you've never seen it before.

Here's a YouTube vid of it from last year's show:

Anyways, it was a great show.

There were three aerobatic performances by Red-Bull Air Race-type aircraft, including an Extra 300L and an MX. Hammerhead stalls, wingovers, precision rolls, Immelmans, Cuban eights, and more were executed with extreme precision. However, my favorite aerobatic maneuver of them all is the Lomcevak, which is a Czech work that means "hangover".

Watch this video to see why:

I'd heard about that maneuver, but never seen it in person. As a pilot, it just makes me crazy. I mean, that's a little above and beyond unusual attitude training in a Cessna 172! :)

There were also a couple of military demonstrations from an F/A-18F and an F-16, which concluded in a very nice heritage flight with a P-51/F-16 combo. The F/A-18F is a sweet machine, much more impressive than its C-model predecessor, and the F-16 is certainly a treat to watch. However, having been to both the Paris and Farnborough air shows, I miss seeing the Sukhois and MiGs. For me, an air show is no longer complete without seeing at least a Pugachev cobra maneuver or a tail slide.

Picture Show

I shot nearly two hours worth of video, which I'll edit over the next couple of days down to a couple minutes of highlghts. In the meantime here's a few of the still pics I took around the show.

(Click each one to view it full-size)

Blue Angel Number 5: Engines are started and she's ready to roll. Her crew chief stands in front and a crewman kneels behind each wingtip.

Blue Angels Panorama: All six BA's lined up awaiting their pilots.
C-5 Galaxy: The world's largest umbrella.
T-6 Texan II: A very large percentage of our traffic consists of flocks of these little guys. It's a very powerful aircraft, with a top speed of over 300 knots and a 35,000 foot service ceiling. These guys can fly circles around the old T-34's they're replacing, which makes it really interesting when we get T-6's from NAS Pensacola in the same pattern as the T-34's from NAS Whiting.

Panavia Tornado: A very powerful swing-wing fighter-bomber flown by the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. To quote the Volkswagen ad: "Representin' Deutschland, yo!"