We flew a trip from San Jose, California to Omaha, Nebraska during the worst of the fire season last year. We were at
FL390 in our Phenom 300, looking at a huge pyroclastic cumulonimbus that was building over the Rockies from a fire near Denver.
The Denver Center controller was amazed that jets in the high flight levels were diverting around this cloud, and he wanted to see pictures. He asked any pilots in the area to send him photos of the cloud, and he spelled out his FAA email address over the ARTCC frequency.
I instantly sent off a photo, and received a warm acknowledgement several hours later.
Palo Alto, CA
The other day as I was taxiing in at my home airport. The radio was quiet, so I asked the tower how the COVID-19 pandemic had affected them.
Tower: “Do you want the official version or how it really is?”
Me: “How it really is.”
Tower: “None of our people have gotten sick, but now we have all kinds of hoops we have to jump through., and a lot of new procedures to follow.”
I thought to myself, “Yes, the world has changed in so many ways.”
It was a number of years ago, so it’s OK to tell the story now…
Chicago Approach was famous for a lack of tolerance for VFR pilots. One controller would say things like, “Flight Following? Yeah; here ya go: turn heading 270 and call back when you’re in Iowa. I don’t have any time for toy airplanes.”
That same controller did it to me when I was flying up Lake Shore Drive with my wife and a CFI friend. I called for flight following and he barked, “All VFR traffic: we don’t have time for flight following. Try center on 123.45.”
When local controllers came out to events like EAA meetings, they admitted that they knew the guy, and were glad when he retired a few years ago.
Recently, I took my Piper Arrow out for a late afternoon Bay tour from Oakland to the Golden Gate Bridge. The NORCAL frequency was unusually quiet. Only one other airplane, a Cessna, checked in. The friendly controller gave him instructions that contained a number of semi-official local waypoints. The instruction went something like, “Stay north of the toll plaza and follow the Nimitz freeway to the Colosseum.”
The Cessna pilot acknowledged the instructions, but the attentive controller picked up on the slight hesitation of the pilot and asked, “Are you familiar with the area?”
The Cessna pilot mentioned that he was from New York and the controller patiently explained the waypoints to him, ending the explanation with, “Come back any time, we are glad to help you out.”
I could not resist and keyed the mic to ask, “What about me, I came all the way from Germany?”
I came 20 years ago, but my German accent is still very recognizable.
The controller came back with, “We’ll help you out as well.”
I then apologized for the breach in radio discipline, but he said, “No problem, you are the only two on the frequency right now.”
Then an unknown pilot chimed in, “That was the nicest exchange I have heard on NORCAL in a long while.”
This happened a few years ago, in the pre-pandemic world.
I was chugging along in my Piper Dakota from North Central Arkansas heading toward the busy Dallas-Fort Worth airspace on a Friday afternoon. Fort Worth Center was talking fast, directing the arriving airline traffic, dealing with a few military training flights and a couple of us little guys on flight following.
Center: “Cherokee 28U, military traffic, 1 o’clock, 10 miles, 10,000, eastbound.”
I looked and didn’t spot anything, so I asked center to say traffic again— just as a B52 emerged from behind my sun visor.
Center (in a very exasperated voice): “The Big Black One.”
Me (meekly): “Traffic in sight.”
Indeed, it was a big airplane.