i read you broken

Coming back into the traffic pattern today on a multi engine stage check, I noticed we were unable to clearly hear the towers transmission. After the student made the initial radio call to establish two-way radio communication and receive traffic pattern entry instructions, the towers reply came back broken. Missing key words including our call sign, and detailed entry instructions. Instead we heard bits and pieces of what should have been a complete response.

My student understanding that it was extremely likely to be the radio call intended for us, and correctly assuming what the instructions were, read back a response that would have been considered normal. This made me think. I didn’t like that we had just accepted pattern entry instructions for who we can only ASSUME was intended for us.

Being the check airman I am, I began thinking. Have we actually established two-way radio communication? I never heard tower read back my callsign. My student could have easily just read back a clearance intended for someone else and were about to enter the airspace without established communication. Or worse, I could create a traffic conflict with the aircraft that the radio call was actually for. This thought process was not making me feel comfortable. I thought about it a little longer.

I thought about how upset the tower would be if I asked for clarification on a radio call I wasn’t sure about. I thought about the different ways he would yell at me, or how he would condescendingly re-read the clearance. I thought maybe the problem would just go away. Maybe there is no problem. I thought if we could just get our landing clearance nobody would notice.

It’s funny how the human brain works. I would and will always teach any student that if you are ever unsure about a clearance, an instruction, or suggestion; Never ever hesitate to request clarification, a repeat, or a new clearance. Here I am saying how I’m totally unsure to myself and I’m debating myself on if I should or shouldn’t query ATC about it!

“Tower radio check, how do you hear?”
“I hear you loud and clear”
“Tower, I read you broken”

This would prove to be a very frustrating conversation. In my mind the word “broken” must mean something completely different.

“Well apparently you’re experience problems, so better just land and check out the problem”
“How about I check out our second radio”

Second radio had the same issue. The towers transmissions were coming through “broken”. Now if you’re unfamiliar with how radios work, I’ll make it really really easy. Having the same problem with both radios at the same time is like winning the lottery twice in a row on a Wednesday in July. Unpossibile(sic). Unlikely.

“Still experiencing the same issue tower, I’ll keep you advised”

Of course he doesn’t respond to me.

After landing we heard the next few transmissions perfectly clear. I again stated that our problem was resolved, and he didn’t care. I had to terminate my stage check because the tower believed I had an issue, that really didn’t exist. It frustrated me to no end to have the tower make a decision for me when I didn’t need them to.

The moral of this story is this: Don’t ever hesitate to ask for clarification, or a repeat of a clearance. Even if the controller is a complete psychopathic jerk.

I got to thinking today

Something that I haven’t posted in a long time.

I was browsing through some of my past writings, and realized something that I have not posted in a long time. I guess I just stop thinking about it. So, here are my current logbook totals.

Total flight time: 1880
As flight instructor: 1484
Multi Engine airplane: 567

If you can hear this transmission, ident.

Yup, that was me leaving Tampa International today.

Turn right heading 170
Heading 170
Turn right heading 170
….Heading 170
If you can hear this transmission, ident.

Recieve worked fine, transmit no worky. Reset the avionics master, reset CBs, tried different coms, tried different headsets, different PTT buttons, nothing.

After a descent acknowledged by another ident, we were VFR. I set 1200 in and confirmed my IFR cancellation with another ident. Flew from Tampa all the way back to Vero VFR. Pulled out my cell phone and watched for when I had service. I had maybe 2 bars of service over Arcadia and immediately called the tower. I told him I was about 30 minutes away, NORDO and wanted to land. Right over the phone he cleared me to enter the pattern via a right base and to look for light gun signals.

About 10 miles out I set 7600 again and tower had me ident to acknowledge.

You're number one, cleared to land.



Unfortunately, I will not be going to Switzerland.

A few days ago I received an email from SAT informing me of the unfortunate news that they will no longer be able to offer me a position due to the economic downturn. They have seen a decrease in business and can not justify the investment of my JAA conversions.

Although this is extremely depressing news and the exact opposite of what I was hoping for, it comes as no surprise. Given the state of the world economy and its specific strains on the aviation industry, I would have been surprised if they didn’t make this call.

I’m getting use to this dissapointment associated with aviation, unfortunately.

So continues the job hunt.

Advise ready to copy

Its not very often you hear the words “Advise ready to copy a phone number, we’re going to need you to call when you land”. To a non pilot it may sound like no big deal, but to this date, hearing that sentence was the most terrifying moment of my entire flying career.

I haven’t been around in the industry very long, but I’ve been scared a few times. Partial and complete engine failures, electrical problems, landing gear malfunctions, none as scary as hearing ATC say those few words to my call sign.

I was flying with a commercial pilot student training him for his multi engine add on rating to his commercial. We were flying a Seneca 3 on an IFR flight plan and we had just finished a simulated single engine ILS approach. In a multi engine aircraft we routinely train engine failures in all flight scenarios. This particular time we were training a very common tested instrument approach scenario with a little twist.

In my experience with light twin airplanes and flight students, I feel its a very valuable experience to be introduced to single engine go-arounds. Its one of those scenarios that are extremely rare, yet extremely difficult. Yet with the right training it can become a manageable event.

In the Seneca we are unable to apply ‘full power’ because of turbochargers used to boost engine performance. So at sea level atmospheric pressure the boost supplied by the turbos is well beyond the limit of the engine.

This brings us to our scenario this specific day. Approximately 200 feet above the runway on short final I instruct my student to conduct the single engine go around. In the blur of the action he instinctively added full power. This got my attention and my focus which eventually led to the near deviation. While on the climb out I focused on ensuring no damage was suffered from the operating engine. This was not only going to be a lesson for the student, but for me as well.

We had been given clearance to 2000 feet and to fly a heading of near due south. During the climb out my attention stayed focused on the engine instruments and I failed to monitor my student closely enough to catch his climb right through our altitude. I contacted ATC to query if we were cleared to 3000(praying we were). Nope.

Power came to idle and the nose pitched down as I dropped the aircraft back to our assigned altitude as quickly as I could. The deviation from our assigned altitude was the largest deviation I had ever allowed to happen during my flight training, let alone my time as an instructor. ATC made no comment at the time and we continued on our flight.

A few minutes later we got the call.

“Seneca, advise ready to copy a phone number. Possible pilot deviation resulting in a loss of separation. We will need to investigate, and you will need to contact us when you land.”

This invoked a complete wave of terror and panic. I began thinking of how this would affect the rest of my flying career. I was unsure of what the consequences would be, unsure of what to expect and completely clueless of what to do.

I could think of nothing else but what would happen when I landed and called the number I just wrote down.

After an uneventful completion of the flight, I made the dreaded phone call. I talked with the supervisor and he advised me that it was a possibility that a pilot deviation could result from the event. He mentioned he has some more internal investigating to do and he would call me back if a deviation would not result. So here I sat and waiting in terror wondering what could possibly happen if I actually received a pilot deviation.

A few minutes later, actually quite short period of time, he called me back.

No pilot deviation would result. A wave of relief as intense as the wave of terror I felt when I first heard the words over the radio…