Editor's Log

July 2002 Issue

With Help Like This

Before you go out of your way to make life easier, make sure your help is truly needed

File this one under “Pilot as good guy, sometimes to a fault.”

I like to help out controllers when I can. If the departure end of the airport is stacked with departures while I’m making a leisurely VFR approach, I’m quick to volunteer to extend downwind to let a couple of airplanes out. If I’m in a slow airplane approaching final in front of a fast one, I’ll offer to take a vector or turn to put me behind the other airplane.

While there are a lot of pilots who share this attitude, some take helpfulness to counterproductive extremes.

I was transitioning some busy airspace recently when a pilot called the tower, reporting “inbound from the southwest.” The controller asked his position relative to a prominent landmark and he said he was a mile southwest of it.

That was apparently enough for the controller to identify the airplane on the D-BRITE, but the pilot, whose radio manners suggested he doesn’t get out much, insisted that he needed to ident so the controller could positively identify him. The controller said, thanks, but I’ve got you. The pilot persisted until, despite several assurances from the controller that the airplane was identified, the pilot reported identing his transponder.

No harm, no foul, but the controller’s attitude toward this airplane was condescending, if not downright hostile, for the remainder of the flight.

Fast forward another week. I was departing Orlando Executive and heard an incoming VFR airplane making initial contact with the tower. He reported “inbound over Florida State University with information Mike.”

Not all controllers are whizzes at geography, but this one was sharp and knew that the pilot either was mistaken or had an extremely powerful radio, since Florida State University is about 200 miles away in Tallahassee. He asked the pilot to say direction and distance from the airport. The pilot responded again that he was flying “right over the top now of Florida State University.”

The controller, probably suspecting the pilot meant the nearby University of Central Florida, asked if the airplane was northeast of the airport. The pilot responded, “right over the top of Florida State University.”

This persisted for what constitutes an eternity in frequency time, with the pilot responding to each question on his location with a reference to the wrong location. If the controller was playing with the pilot’s head, he was good at it, because finally he said, “Cessna 34A, I guess you’re over some school somewhere. Just fly to the airport and let me know when you get here.”

Unfortunately, it was then time for me to make a frequency change and I didn’t get to hear the rest of the flight.

Most adults have learned what these two pilots failed to recognize – help ain’t help if it confounds the other person.

-Ken Ibold