I know several of the Whiting NAS pilots read this blog. If you could, please pass this on to your squadron mates. Call it a "heads up".
Yesterday, we had a VFR T-34 orbiting over Whiting NAS at 9500 feet. He was there for what must have an hour and a half, cutting holes in the sky, not talking to us at all. We know he was a T-34 because he had never squawked 1200 when the Whiting departure sector terminated his radar services and was therefore on his departure squawk code. I was actually able to locate a strip on him.
Note: Just a word on the T-34 flight plans. Many Whiting T-34s will file VFR departure flight plans with a route similar to this: NSE..TROJN..VFR..1R8. NSE is Whiting NAS, the TROJN fix is a local fix and 1R8 is an uncontrolled airport about forty miles west of here in Mobile's airspace. However, the "VFR" in the route terminates the flight plan's routing and doesn't let us handoff to Mobile. Essentially, what that flight plan means is that the T-34 wants to 1) depart Whiting, 2) terminate radar services locally once they're clear of Class C, 3) play around locally VFR, and then 4) eventually head over to Bay Minette on their own.
Here's the problem. All of our high altitude northeast jet departures have to go out over Whiting, climbing to 10,000 feet. Due to an Eglin AFB restricted area to our east, we have a very narrow corridor of about a 360-030 heading off Pensacola. At the same time, all of our high altitude jet arrivals from the northeast are descending to 11,000, coming in through the same corridor.
Once Jacksonville takes the handoff on our 10,000 foot departures, they are permitted to climb them up to 15,000 feet. So, that usually works out nicely, as we step the 11,000 arrivals down and they climb the departures up and out.
It looks like this:
However, this is what that T-34 was doing.
Perfectly legal? Yes. He was clear of Class C. He had his transponder's Mode C squawking over the Class C. He had followed his flight plan to letter. Depart Whiting. Climb clear of Class C. Go play VFR.
Complete headache for us? Absolutely! Of all places and altitudes to go goof around, he had to choose those. It couldn't be worse. It seemed like everywhere we had an arriving or departing airliner, he was right in its face. Seriously, every time. It's like he had some kind of "Sixth Spidey Ninja Sense" or something.
On top of diverting our attention to make sure our IFR traffic was clean, we actually had to do a good amount of coordination with Jacksonville Center to get higher with the airliners to top the guy. "Crestview low, Pensacola East, ApReq one five thousand, Delta 1282." And with our corridor we don't have a lot of room to maneuver. Quite frankly, it was dangerous. We were lucky not to get a TCAS Resolution Advisory.
Normally the T-34s that play over Whiting do so at 5500 to 7500 feet. It's unusual to see them go higher. Those altitudes aren't a problem at all and give us plenty of room to maneuver. We can step our arrivals down to 8000 or 9000, which clears both the departures climbing over them to 10,000 and the VFR traffic maneuvering below them.
But 9500? And not talking to us? Bad altitude. Like I said, what that guy was doing was legal. But here, legal and safe don't necessarily jive.
In contrast, earlier in the day, I worked another T-34 departing Whiting. He specifically requested a VFR block above Whiting up to 10,000 feet and told me exactly what he was doing (basic instrument maneuvers). He knew he was going to be in the way and he wanted to get traffic advisories.
In short: If you're a T-34 pilot and want to be directly over Whiting at higher than 8500 for extended periods of time (especially 9500!) please call approach for Flight Following. That way we can give you traffic calls, know what you're doing, and advise the airliners if you have them in sight. Otherwise, if you want to remain anonymous and at higher altitudes, please work more towards Brewton airport. It's a much quieter area and out of harm's way.
4 days ago