AVmail: Oct. 11, 2004
Reader mail this week about civilian astronauts, ATC staffing, presidential TFRs and more.
"Air Show" Crash at Fullerton
I would have hoped that AVweb would do a better job of factual reporting than to classify a maintenance test flight of the Ford Tri-motor replica as an "Air Show" crash (NewsWire, Sep. 30). This is how air shows get a bad name!
The initial information we received only referred to the accident happening during Airport Days and we didn't realize that it was a post-maintenance check of a replica 1920s airplane that just happened to have occurred during an air show. The ASSume analogy applies but maybe you could cut us a little slack on this one.
UAV or Not?
Regarding the picture of the aircraft with only an ON/OFF in today's AVweb edition (NewsWire, Oct. 4) and paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:
The original cockpit only had an "ON" switch, as the aircraft would automatically shut itself down after it had landed at the destination and taxied to parking. Only problem was, no test pilot could be found who would fly it until the designers added the "OFF" switch. Once the "OFF" switch was added, flight testing proceeded as planned. What the pilots didn't know was that the "OFF" switch wasn't actually connected to anything.
R. Ed Brown
Presidential Candidate Differences
If presidential TFRs are the only "hot button" issue Mr. Hodge can come up with to differentiate between the candidates, I'm afraid that dog don't hunt with this voter (AVmail, Oct. 4). The president and vice president have TFRs that are mandated by law. Kerry and Edwards may be able to opt out (for which I thank them), but the sitting president and vice president cannot. I would be very much surprised if the Secret Service would be willing to drop the TFRs just because the other candidates don't want them.
Post-9/11, the Secret Service is very much the 900-pound gorilla as regards TFRs, and they are the ones who initiated the inflation of the presidential TFRs. They (and the FAA that allows them to throw their weight around) are the real problem, not Mssrs Bush and Cheney. I would suggest that Mr. Hodge find another issue to worry about (and there are plenty); this one won't fly.
X-15 Altitude Record
When you reported on the SpaceShipOne, Ansari X Prize Winner, you cited the X-15 altitude record as 358,000 feet (NewsWire, Sep. 28):
"It was also flown on the anniversary of the Sputnik launch and eclipsed an altitude record (358,000 feet) until Monday held by the X-15."
My references -- "At the Edge of Space" by Milton O. Thompson and "Hypersonic" by Jenkins & Landis -- both list the record flight by Joe Walker on August 22, 1963, as attaining 354,200 feet, an unofficial altitude record.
We just rushed home with the number they told us at Mojave. You're correct to prod us for failing to attribute it.
Are Controllers Stressed? Understaffed? Whiners?
As a former Airways Facilities employee of the FAA, I read with great amusement "Anonymous" and John Carr's letters addressing controller issues (NewsWire, Sep. 9; NewsWire, Sep. 13). I am amused because there is no other job I'm aware of where so much protection for the employee has been built in.
NATCA suffers greatly from hubris. The more NATCA gets from FAA management, the more they want. It never ends. NATCA thinks they're the only ones in the workforce, private or public, who is under great stress while performing job duties. Our nation's first responders can probably go toe to toe with NATCA on job stress.
Want some job stress? Try repairing a glide slope or localizer system during crappy weather, just when it's needed the most. Imagine the mid-point RVR out on the field that has just gone belly up, and you have to pick your way to it in cruddy visibility. Replacing antennas on a tower in the dark of night. I could go on, but you get the picture. The point is, in aviation, we all have important jobs -- all of us. This is something some controllers tend to lose sight of. The rampers, the FBO operators, the charter pilots, the dispatcher, the screener at the checkpoint, the aviation security inspector, the Airways Facilities (now renamed by the FAA) technicians, and yes, even the controllers all play an important, vital role in keeping the National Airspace System (NAS) in service.
As for Anonymous, she describes a lot of FAA facilities across the land. Her situation is not unique. The problems she alludes to stem from management -- all the way from the Office of the Administrator down to the tower chief, and the first line supervisors. Management is a terminally ill patient in the FAA.
Nancy E. Wigal
Law Enforcement Division, TSA HQ
When I read the "Jane Doe" letter initially, a week or so after it's publication in AVweb, I had two thoughts. The first and most immediate thought was that it was not written by a controller; or if that person had actually been a controller, they hadn't worked on the floor for a very long time. The phrasing of the letter was completely off and I thought that the harping on time and attendance issues such as leave entitlements, usage and time on position sounded to me like a disgruntled office, staff or management person in charge of compiling such data. There are plenty of folks that live under the 2152 (or ATC) banner that never have or never will strap on a headset, that will never set up or sweat out a single sequence or separate any two or maybe 20 aircraft, that will never work the eve- to mid-rattlers that grind a body to dust, whose "visits" to any ATC control room floor is measured in the minutes if not seconds, yet claim to be air traffic controllers. Secondly I wondered at the wisdom of and potential agenda behind the publishing of an anonymous letter -- whose authenticity cannot be verified -- that contained such incendiary charges. Most of Jane's claims in my opinion were grossly exaggerated and some were completely out of whack with my 22+ years of actual ATC experience on the floor of actual air traffic control facilities.
Now we arrive at the question of the week (QOTW, Oct. 7). I am wondering how anyone but folks who work in air traffic control towers, TRACONS and centers would have the ability to answer that question with any degree of accuracy. With security protocols at an all time high, visits from the public (and that includes the flying public) are limited: They are escorted in and out of the building and they aren't allowed to stay very long. That pretty much makes everything but the services that we provide invisible to a large percentage of the folks answering this question. I liken it to my airline familiarization experience of the past. One or 10 or 50 rides in a jump seat makes me no expert on airline affairs, and I wouldn't begin to think it appropriate to even hazard a guess as to the pilot's staffing levels, pay or value to their company or to the flying public. Again I have to wonder about the agenda behind this question, as the answers can't possibly be anything but opinion based upon hearsay.
As for me, on some days I could say that I am paid too much: Traffic is light, everything works, staffing levels are good and the breaks are generous. On other and quite a few more than the formerly mentioned days, I am not paid enough: Weather conditions, traffic volume, equipment outages or failures, airport closures and low staffing levels have made the day an unrelenting struggle to bail the incoming tide with a teacup. We have a saying for breaks on those days: They are called QPBs (quick physiological breaks) and that's about all we get. I recently went home after one of those days with an uneaten lunch because there was just no time to even sit down, much less eat. Most days I earn my money and my breaks and I give decent value for my pay.
I think it unfortunate that we can't get past this issue brought about by an anonymous letter written by a person who's job title and qualifications we will never know, whose claims are unverified and unsupported. I for one think Jane's 15 minutes of fame are over.
And unlike Jane, I will sign my name, title and facility and take the credit or the heat for my written statements.
Air Traffic Controller (on the floor, in the rotation), Anchorage (ANC) ATCT
I am an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) at Muskegon (Mich.) ATCT (MKG). I have been an ATC for 12 years and I am proud to be providing a service to the flying public, working for the FAA, and thankful for the representation of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). I would like to address the problem we as ATCs and you as the flying public face in regards to air traffic staffing.
Our facility approved staffing is 21 ATCs and we are currently at 21 ATCs. Out of these 21 ATCs, two are medically disqualified (cannot work traffic and the FAA counts them towards our staffing) and 5 ATCs are eligible for retirement. This is not counting both of our supervisors who are also eligible for retirement and are retiring in 2005. I was the youngest ATC at the age of 21 when I came to MKG. I am 33 years old and I am still the youngest at my facility.
It's no lie, it's no joke; our staffing is a serious issue. Seeing how it takes usually two years for a trainee to certify at MKG (able to work all positions without supervision), we are in trouble and you the flying public should be concerned. The real bad news is that MKG is not the only facility in this predicament.
Your statement to move the airplane out of harms way ("Thanks, Andy," Aug. 18) is what I always thought I would do if a hurricane threatened my airport (Deland - DED). However, Charlie and Frances arrived before I could make repairs to my airplane so that it could be flown out. I had suffered a partial engine failure, and made a precautionary landing at Lafayette Landings. My airplane was tied down outside, with no hope of flying out to avoid the hurricanes. Thanks to generous residents at that field, and some last-second luck, I was able to get it in one of the resident's hangars. I'm sure Frances would have destroyed it if left outside. I was able to install a new cylinder and get the airplane back in my hangar at Deland in time for hurricane Jeanne. My hanger at Deland suffered no damage from any of the storms, but I think if the next hurricane seems headed my way, flying it out of state will still be my first choice.
First U.S. Civilian Astronaut? Not.
AVweb wrote (NewsWire, Oct. 7):
"Mike Melvill, the first U.S. civilian astronaut ..."
While Mr. Melvill's accomplishments are highly meritorious, he is most definitely not the first U.S. civilian astronaut. NASA has had many civilian astronauts, most notably Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. In fact, it was Mr. Armstrong's civilian status that helped get him that assignment. Mr. Melvill is merely the first non-government-employee U.S. astronaut.