Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reading between the lines

In this job, it's guaranteed you'll see something strange pretty frequently. One of the strangest was last night.

One of the other sectors had a Navy trainer inbound. It's a Sabreliner, which is an old corporate jet-type aircraft they use for navigator training. They fly with several people on board, four in this case.

The pilot declares an emergency and the controller working him of course asks the nature of the emergency. The pilot replies "It's a medical emergency. One of the students can't move his left arm."

Talk about things that make you go "Hmmmm?". Or more appropriately: "What the hell?" Long story short: the supervisor gets informed, the tower gets called, the paperwork gets filed, and the guy lands safely. But that was definitely unique.

We've seen smoke in the cabin on an airliner, a rough running engine on a piston single, landing gear issues on other trainers, etc. Monday we saw a Navy trainer whose engine cowling opened in mid-flight, tore off, and cracked the canopy. There's no mystery to these, as the pilot will openly tell you "This is what happened."

However - especially with relatively minor issues - sometimes you have to read between the lines of what a pilot is saying and get their true meaning.
  • "Can you give me vectors to [VFR arrival fix]?" means "Help! I'm lost!".
  • "We're having issues with our flaps and are speed restricted to 120 knots." usually means "We were practicing aerobatics, forgot to retract the flaps, and broke the airplane."
  • "Sorry we missed our turn, sir, we're correcting." means "The student is 5 miles behind the airplane."
Obviously you don't question the pilot and just work them as needed, no matter the situation. Whatever humor may be inherent in the situation is left off the frequency. We're here to work the traffic, not bring attention to the situation.

But in this case, the question still stands: How the heck does a perfectly good student leave on a mission and come back minus one functioning arm?

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