Friday, July 22, 2005


Ground Lesson #12: Tower Tour

I went to the airport hoping I'd finally get to make a solo flight in the practice area. The weather looked promising. Unfortunately, I couldn't fly due to an entity even more menacing than the weather: George W. Bush.

The President was in town today to tell everyone about his Social Security plan, so there was a Temporary Flight Restriction in place. When this happens, nobody can fly within a 10-nautical-mile radius of the President except for regularly scheduled commercial flights, emergency aircraft, and law-enforcement aircraft. PDK is within that radius, so the airport was effectively closed.

The instructor called the control tower to see whether we could get a tour. The controllers weren't busy (nobody was flying), so they let us in. We had to present photo ID and get visitor badges, then we were escorted up. There is an elevator that goes part of the way up, then we climbed a few flights of stairs.

The room at the top of the tower was smaller than I expected. There were three controllers on duty. They pointed out various pieces of equipment to us and answered our questions, but without any planes in the air, we really didn't get to see how the tower functioned. We did get to see them record an ATIS broadcast (starting with "Notice to Airmen: There is a Temporary Flight Restriction in place. . ."). One annoying pilot called in every five minutes to ask if there were any updates to the President's plans and whether the TFR might be lifted early. One of the other controllers commented that in a similar situation, she had told the pilot to turn on the TV and watch the local news to keep abreast of the President's position. My instructor took the opportunity to ask the controllers about a few procedural issues, like "When I'm told to 'hold short' over on that taxiway that has no hold-short line, where do you really want me to stop?"

It was nice to meet them, to associate some faces with the voices we always hear. They suggested that we return some day when they were actually doing some work.

We returned to the flight school and did some ground work. We weren't being very productive, so the instructor charged me for only an hour and let me leave early.

I scheduled an airplane for Sunday afternoon, when good weather is expected, so I hope I'll finally get to make that first solo flight away from the airport then. Any US Presidents reading this, please stay away.

Today's cost: $57.

I almost got a tower tour at my own airport today, but since we got down early from the flight, I didn't want to wait around for an hour untill it was scheduled.

Eventually I'll have to make an effort to get up there to see what's going on behind the scenes, and as you mentioned, to put a face to the voices I always hear on the radio.
I always try to visit the folks I talk to frequently. And bring Danishes.
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