Aside from that, this week had its usual assortment of regular traffic plus the odd "funky thing" that spices up the norm.
- Yesterday I had a couple of PEL's (Precautionary Emergency Landings) in a single session. Both involved Whiting T-34s. The first was a flight of two who departed, and whose wingman developed a stuck gear issue. They split up the flight, I issued the wingman his own squawk, and both came back into land.
The second was a T-34 with an unresponsive power lever (I believe that's their prop pitch control). Fuel and souls on board, a heads up call to the tower, and a point out the East sector later, he got in ok. Both were pretty much non-events. The worst part about emergency situations is trying to talk around the other pilots. This second guy's trying to tell me what's going on, and in the meantime other T-34s are stepping all over him.
- I had a couple Navy helos go NORDO on me in a bad spot, the left base to Runway 32. The issue is that South Whiting's pattern borders Eglin's restricted areas and gunnery ranges. If we lose comms with an aircraft and he flies too far east, he actually stands a fairly significant chance of being blown from the sky by an AC-130 or whatever they have going on out there. Obviously, we call Eglin and get a point out. It's just not a good feeling watching our guy fly eastbound into alien airspace.
Note to the Whiting pilots: If you guys are doing a practice approach, execute your climbout, and then don't hear from us for 10, 15 or 20 miles, please check your radios or try reaching us on another frequency. You should be talking with us right after you make your turnout.
It's perfectly acceptable to call us up on a different freq and say "Hey, we couldn't reach you on [original freq]." Whether it was an equipment failure on our end or a bad button push on the cockpit radio stack, it doesn't matter. We just want to know you're communicating with us.
- The Great Piper Migration of 2009 happened today. I was working Flight Data when the printer started spitting out a ton of very similar overflight flight plans. They were all Piper Warriors, all had very similar sounding callsigns (N642FT, N606FT, etc.), and all were flying from Melbourne to New Orleans Lakefront. In the end, we had something like 25 or 30 of them, all proposed at 4500 feet.
Then the weather started getting bad. The ceilings dropped. Then the altitude amendments started coming in. 6500. 3500. 2500. Some of the strips had four or five altitude amendments. Then, because of the altitude issues, Eglin wasn't sure which frequency to put them on.
Additional complications followed. All of these aircraft were running more than half an hour behind what was expected on the strip, so they began to time out of the system. As we tried to hand the first wave off to Mobile, they wouldn't flash. The flight plans had apparently timed out so we had to make manual handoffs. To try and prevent that from happening to the rest of them, I called Eglin approach up and asked them to update the progress of each flight plan to prevent them from timing out. It seemed to work better after that.
I ended up Googling a couple of the callsigns. Turns out they belonged to a flight school called Florida Institute of Technology, located in Melbourne. I hope they had a good time in the Big Easy. They certainly made our early afternoon interesting.
Here's their fleet. Practically every plane on that ramp flew through our airspace yesterday.
I wonder what the return trip will be like....