This post is not about the horrific news of the moment from Gaza. It is intentionally on another theme: an illustration of people doing their jobs with remarkable competence and calm.
Great write up as always Jim.
Situations like these show the advantages of the "Up/Down" ATC facilities like Chattanooga. In these facilities the tower, ground, and clearance delivery positions are upstairs and the radar room is downstairs in the same building. The controllers are certified on all the positions and work them all daily in rotation. The tower controller has the ability to see what's going on via a radar display in the tower, plus she can turn on the departure frequency to listen to the whole conversation with the radar controller if she wants. Since it was the midnight shift and there were probably only these two controllers on duty, she likely made the phone call to FedEx to get the hazmat and cargo information.
In a separated facility like most of the larger airports, these controllers would only be able to talk with each other on the landline and pass any information that way. It still works, but you just don't get the same synergy as you get between coworkers who work shoulder to shoulder everyday.
Unfortunately, the way of the future seems to be with more and more "Consolidated Tracons" that only work radar around a larger metro area with multiple airports and then separated towers that only work local traffic at the airport. Eventually, those towers will become "Remote Towers" that consist of cameras and sensors to show what's happening at the airport and display them to a controller in a separate, sometimes far away, location. Naturally, these remote towers can be consolidated in their own facility so on the midnight shift you can have one controller working multiple airport towers concurrently. Presumably there would be someone else available to assist in emergencies. (Staffing permitting of course :-)
Thank you so much for publishing this and adding extra details for this non-pilot aviation nut. This might be the 1st time I’ve heard a controller say that FedEx (or company) had been contacted for cargo info, presumably including hazmat info. Another distraction averted. Didn’t airliners used to have alternative manual methods for raising or lowering landing gear?
Your stories about well-trained air professionals carrying out their jobs under extreme pressure is reassuring at a time when many have lost confidence and even respect for the government, scientists, and others in positions of authority. In my mind, it is similar to the wonderful work you and Deb have done with your “Our Towns” project and foundation. You give us solid reasons to feel good about the people in our communities who are striving and succeeding to make things better at a time when many of us see a nation in decline. Thank you.
What happens to the aircraft after a gear up landing? I'm guessing its not just a paint job.
Not an aviation buff but like many of your readers I find such stories fascinating.
"The pilots can't just press Pause and sort things out". Great point. What sets the stage in this excellent example is actually informed by the fact that in the simulator, the instructor can and does sometimes just press "pause", which freezes all the action so the pilots can sort things out! The goal of the constant, career long training of airline pilots is to ensure that no crew has to ever face an abnormal or emergency situation that they are seeing for the first time. What's hard to factor in sometimes, is the real-world stress of a life threatening situation and the effect it has on pilots' focus, discipline and performance. It's the repetition, mainly, that's designed to mitigate that part of it, and also make the procedural imperative real. (as in "believe your instruments" when practicing unusual attitudes) Practice produces confidence. Confidence produces relative calm.
This event sounds to me like more than your "simple" no gear landing. The hydraulic failure that resulted in the gear failure may affect many other systems as well; flaps, flight controls, other systems...all the distraction and additional abnormal / emergency checklist action adds up. The controller did a great job of reminding the crew that he'd handle everything on his end, so they wouldn't even have to change frequencies, a seemingly small thing, but in reality, not at all small. Distraction adds up... (Simulator instructors are really good at loading the pilots up with distractions if we let them. It's part of the training, prioritizing under stress). I had one ( thankfully only one, ever) occasion in the New York area one extremely busy winter evening where we thought it prudent to squawk emergency and silence the radios in order to run all the troubleshooting and checklists and get on the ground before we ran dangerously low on fuel.
Thanks Mr. Fallows for the insightful commentary. It's not often we see accurate, in-depth reporting on aircraft issues. And we will all miss Richard McSpadden's take on this one. RIP
The focus and calmness of everyone involved was mesmerizing. . Until the folks on the ground said "everyone is watching you." I teared up when they said "everyone." All these people just "doing their jobs," all to bring 3 people home safe. It was an inspiring display of the best humans can be! I cheered a little when they landed. All I know about flying is to keep my seat belt fastened. Overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who have made every flight I've ever taken uneventful!
Great article & link - one of the better Youtube videos on this; love the controller always saying "no problem, ..." very calm. Was kinda surprised they never handed off to the tower (as I recall), but such a good job, a bit of bent metal and shaken cargo, but everyone walking away to fly another day.
Utterly fascinating tick-tock, Jim, especially for us non-flyers unacquainted with the choreography and direction of airspace. Serves to remind what I tell folks who work with and for me: panic serves no purpose.
I always find these stories intense and often amazing. The crew and the controller are inspiring in their skills and competence.
Fantastic job on the part of all the actors in this drama. Gear-up landings are not so rare in general aviation (in aircraft unlike your Cirrus, where they do come up). I was threatened with one, and checked everything out with the help of the KHPN tower and several passes. Fortunately it was a problem with the indicator light, and the landing was uneventful. But I was supported in the system with the same level of care.
To Jim's excellent recap, I'll add one point. Gear-up landings, while dramatic, rarely result in injuries. They scrape up the airplane involved, but especially when "the equipment" (the fire trucks and other emergency vehicles) is standing by, they don't threaten lives. Live "action news" TV stations cover such incidents breathlessly (e.g., this famous example of a Jet Blue landing at LAX in 2005 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epKrA8KjYvg&t=8s or this example of a small general aviation airplane https://youtu.be/Jl5n8ircdPg?si=fsxMmrWtA8QFVwaB).