Short Final: Nuclear Smoke


I was flying IFR in VMC between St. Petersburg and Orlando Executive. Central Florida TRACON (Orlando Approach) was vectoring non‑commercial traffic over the top of Orlando International for an eventual turn to the north or continuation to the east. In my case, after passing over Orlando International, I would get a descending north turn followed by a northwest vector to intercept final approach for Runway 25 at Orlando Executive.

In front of my Cirrus SR22T was a slower Cessna C172 continuing east and then northeast to Daytona Beach.

Approach was vectoring the C172 away from my expected north turn. All was going well. The Cessna pilot’s young-sounding voice and careful response to vectors suggested he was a student or at least a low‑time pilot. He was doing a fine job interacting in a fast-paced environment.

East of Orlando International, the Cessna pilot was given a northeast heading. This new heading would take him over top the Stanton Energy Center, a coal‑burning relic east of Orlando whose twin cooling towers closely resemble any nuclear facility. It was then the Cessna pilot responded in a scratchy and seemingly doubtful voice that he was not sure he could continue as the track would take him very close to “nuclear smoke.”

Orlando approach was back on frequency after a few seconds delay, presumably caught off guard and warranting a high degree of professional self‑control. The controller advised the Cessna pilot that he would be fine passing over the power plant, however he could turn ten degrees right to keep the power plant on his left if he preferred. The new heading was exuberantly accepted.

The response from ATC was so well played our nervous Cessna colleague was likely oblivious to the controllers’ well‑kept opinion of this unusual radio exchange.

Jim Stroh
Safety Harbor, FL