A few years after the big red “Do Not Enter” circle was drawn over Washington, DC, I needed to attend a meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland. In spite of advice against it, I decided to fly my 182 into College Park Airport (KCGS), which would, of course, take me directly into the forbidden zones around DC (ADIZ and Flight Restricted Zone). A couple days before departing my southern Illinois home I called ATC and got the detailed entry instructions.
En route, following the instructions, I landed an hour outside of DC in West Virginia. Using the FBO’s landline I called the designated ATC number, received my Entry Authorization Number, ETA, reporting frequency, etc., refueled and headed east again.
At the 30 minute mark from the FRZ the en route controller handed me off to the special ADIZ frequency for ‘little guys.’ I called several times with no answer, getting closer and closer to the big red circle on the chart. I called the previous controller. I was told to “Keep trying.” Sure.
Then, 20 minutes out, finally a response. I gave my information and entry authorization number.
ADIZ Controller: “You were supposed to call 30 minutes out!”
Me: “I did. You didn’t answer my first five calls.”
Big mistake! Now I was lectured that I should have stopped an hour out and called on a landline for an authorization number.
Me: “I did that,” and repeated the number. A very long pause followed. Then…
ADIZ Controller: “You’re not in the computer and not authorized entry. Remain outside the ADIZ and state your intentions.”
It was getting dark, and I was still over the West Virginia Mountains, so I said, “I intend to land at College Park. Please check again.”
I re-read my authorization number.
ADIZ Controller: “Request denied. You’re not in the computer. Remain outside the ADIZ and state your intentions.”
Great system, I thought, remembering the warnings.
Dark now. I’m at 3000 feet, glad I was familiar with the area. I turned left, skirting the edge of the ADIZ, intending to stay close in hopes the controller would find my info and clear me in. I keyed the mic: “88 Zulu. I’ll remain outside the zone; please re-check for my information.”
Minutes pass. Radio silence. Now I’m at the northern edge of the ADIZ, moving away from College Park. What to do? Every place else is a long taxi ride to my meeting. Suddenly the radio comes alive, the voice sounding frustrated with me: “88 Zulu, where are you going?”
Me: “I’m staying outside the ADIZ, as instructed.”
ADIZ Controller: “Turn right and fly to College Park!” Said as if he’d told me twice already. The next line, “What’s wrong with you?” was left unsaid.
Me: “88 Zulu turning right. Please confirm I’m cleared to enter the ADIZ and Flight Restricted Zone.”
ADIZ Controller: “Affirmative 88 Zulu. Cleared direct College Park Airport. Frequency change approved.”
Ten minutes later I was on the ground. It took me a couple days to calm down. Secret Service maybe wasn’t going to come calling after all. So much for getting smoothly into DC. And the real thought, “DC’s ADIZ control didn’t know what the $%#^ it was doing,” has been—until now—left unsaid.
No, it’s not funny. It’s just head-shakingly sad that we came to that.
Los Angeles, CA
One summer prior to earning my wings at the Army Primary Helicopter School at Fort Wolters, Texas, I was flying a solo cross country in west Texas in a trusty H-23 (Hiller Killer).
On the way back to Fort Wolters, I decided to deviate from my dead reckoning flight plan to avoid what looked to me like an isolated thunderstorm directly in front of me. What I actually managed to do was get myself hopelessly lost. After thrashing around for a while, I finally saw a crossroads with a flashing light and a convenience store. I decided to land my chopper across the street, shut down, and find out where I was.
I landed, secured the helicopter and crossed the street. I’m sure the attendant had never before seen a helicopter and a flight-suited pilot land in his midst.
“Where am I?” I asked the clerk.
He smiled and proudly answered, “Sir, you’re in Texas!”
Highland Village (Dallas), TX
We get ’em out, but hit bottom every month. Don’t want reruns? Send us your cleverest or most embarrassing moment on the radio—or your favorite fix names or airport names—with a subject of “OTA,” to [email protected]. Be sure to include your full name and location.