Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Airplane Sightings

Just a short post today. I've been working on some longer pieces, but they're taking a little more time than expected.

I've always been an aircraft junkie. I find every type of flying machine interesting, no matter the shape, size, or purpose. As you can see by the list in the right column, I like to keep track of the different aircraft types I've worked. I guess you could call it an airplane enthusiast version of a trophy wall. :)

These are some of the more recent items in the "collection":

T-38 Talon

The primary supersonic jet trainer, there's about 500 of these in the United States armed forces. While they're used by the USAF for flight training and the Navy for aggressor ops, the ones we see here are actually from NASA. These are typically all overflights, although occasionally they'll land at Navy Pensacola.

What gives those specific birds a "cool factor" for me is the fact that they're flown by NASA astronauts for astronaut training. So, whenever I work one, I'm speaking with someone who's either flown in space or going up into space at some point. It's like one of those Six Degrees of Separation things: if I can't go into space myself, well, at least I can talk to someone who has!


If there was an ATC equivalent to watching paint dry, it's working one of these. We've had a few come here from time to time, some for political campaign matters, others for scientific work like air sampling. With a good tailwind, it'll take forty minutes to cross your scope. In a good headwind... I've seen them fly backwards. They move so slowly that the *T function on our scope - the function that allows you to click on a plane, click on a point on your scope, and calculate how long it'll take for that airplane to get to that point - doesn't compute and spits back an error. It's as if the computer's saying, "Dude, it's a blimp. Nuff said."

At the very least, they make traffic calls very easy. "N123, traffic, 12 o'clock, four miles, two thousand, a huge great white whale of a blimp. Don't harpoon him, Ahab!" I've also stood outside on the back porch to watch them land. It's pretty entertaining, with some of the smaller, more maneuverable ones - like the Skyship 600 - doing these surprisingly quick and low slides/slips/skids into position. Then there's all the folks on the ground running around, reaching for the lines and tying them to the mast truck.

Stearman Biplane

The infamous "Yellow Peril" of Navy training fame. The sky over Pensacola must have been thick with them in the 40's. Given the area's history, there's bound to be at least a few of these still in the vicinity.

We have a fellow that flies one out of an uncontrolled field just west of Whiting. You immediately know it's him on the radio, even before he starts speaking, because of the WOOOOOOSSSHHHHHH in the background from the open air cockpit. "WOOOOOSSSSHHHH - Pensacola App - WOOOSSHH - roach, Stear - WOOOOSH - man 567 - WOOOSSHH - 89 is ten miles north of - WOOOOSH - Pensacola Regional, req - WOOOSH - questing full stop with - WOOOSH - information Tango."

The first time I ever worked him, I didn't understand a word he said to me. S0, naturally I replied, "Aircraft calling, say again?" And what did that get me? Yeah. "WOOOOSH - Pensacola App - WOOOSH - roach, Stear - WOOOOSSSSSSSHHH...."

CV-22 Osprey
This is the Air Force variant of the V-22, the tilt-rotor transport aircraft that takes off as a helicopter but flies like an airplane. It's designed to replace standard helicopters such as the CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-47 Sea Stallion. Very cool airplane and I'm glad they're finally getting them in operation after nearly two decades of teething problems.

Based out of Hurlburt field about 10 miles east of our boundary, these guys don't come over too often. When they do, however, they like to play low and fast.

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