CONTROLLING CHAOS

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dlr110
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CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by dlr110 » Mon Jan 06, 2020 5:25 pm

Three days after I got my Tower Local Control qualification at the Naval Air Training Command in Kingsville, TX. I was working an eleven plane pattern. I cleared a student pilot with an instructor in the back seat of their TA4 jet to land, when they turned final the student couldn’t get lined up correctly for the assigned runway. His speed was too fast and his flight path was too wide for a safe landing so, he added power to wave off the approach and go around.

When he added power and pulled the nose of the aircraft up to climb back to pattern altitude the entire bottom of the aircraft exploded just as he was over the approach end of the runway at about 200 feet. As we soon found out after the accident investigation the aircraft engine seized when power was added causing the engine to start throwing turbine blades resulting in the catastrophic explosion. The engine on this aircraft is internal just behind the pilot cockpit.

Almost at the same time the instructor instinctively grabs the stick, pulled it back putting the aircraft in a high nose up attitude to stall the aircraft and then pulled the master ejection handle. The instructor came out of the aircraft clean, his chute deployed, and he came down safely on the runway. The student pilot however came out of the plane, spun around once or twice before the chute deployed, he got one swing in the chute and then hit the ground hard. His knees and his back were a banged up, but he survived.

Now what I saw from the control tower was total chaos. White and black smoke from the explosion immediately followed by a large orange ball of flames from the ejection seat rockets. I remember seeing the pilots come out of the flames and smoke and the aircraft pointing almost straight up and then come down in the middle of the runway intersections. Then there was another large explosion as the aircraft completely disintegrates and aircraft parts went everywhere. For a moment everything in my mind seemed to have gone into slow motion just like a lot of people say during stressful events. But when we went back later and listened to all the tapes, the accident happened in about ten seconds and everyone in the control tower and on the ground did their jobs just like they had been trained.

Of course, we had to close the airport, there was no way we could land any aircraft with debris all over the runways and fire/rescue equipment responding to the crash site. So, I coordinated clearances for all the aircraft I had and diverted them to other nearby airports. The flight data guy was busy helping me, the supervisor and the ground controller were of course taking care of all the crash and ground support activities on the airport. I still marvel at the fact that the whole event was over in about 2 hours and we were back in full operation.

I took a few days off after that one. I never told anyone at work or Cheryl, but I had some nightmares about that one. I would see that big orange flash of the ejection seat rockets going off and the aircraft hitting the runway and exploding into hundreds of parts. Only in my nightmare those parts came right at the control tower windows….. and me.

It would end with the parts slamming into the tower glass and the glass shattering into thousands of pieces right before hitting me and then I would wake up. It seemed like I was in an Alfred Hitchcock movie and that was the end of the movie. I should have gone to the flight surgeon and reported it, but in those days’ things were a little different and I was afraid it might jeopardize my status as a controller, so I keep quiet. The nightmares didn’t last long and soon I was ok. I just prayed I would never see that movie in re-run again.
David R
Senior Chief, U.S. Navy (Ret)
DFW International Airport (Ret)
Personal Gallery of Knives: https://www.davidsblades.com/

::pray:: “If you have accepted God’s Salvation, you are a soldier in God’s army….are you prepared for battle?"

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by Paladin » Mon Jan 06, 2020 5:43 pm

Wow!! :shock:

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by rea1eye » Mon Jan 06, 2020 8:26 pm

Well written narrative.

Bob

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by Doc B » Mon Jan 06, 2020 9:19 pm

Wow! Most go an entire career, without seeing anything like that! Three days in to your new profession ... I'm sure it was a real lesson...that things don't always go as planned. I'm sure you were a better controller, for the experience. Glad they survived.
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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by TwoFlowersLuggage » Mon Jan 06, 2020 9:30 pm

I salute you sir!

When I was working as an engineer at Lockheed, I had the opportunity to listen to some of the flight recordings from a couple of flight test incidents. The calm exhibited by everyone on the radio (pilot, controller, test director, etc) simply amazed me. I know it is all the training, but it takes a special kind of person to be able to instantly switch into emergency mode and keep your head screwed-on straight while people's lives are hanging by a fraying thread.

One in particular I remember was a flight test of an Air Force plane (this was in the mid 1980s). The plane had just taken off and a chase plane pilot was flying right beside him as he climbed. I can't remember the call signs used, so I'll just make some up - "Chase1" will be the chase pilot. "TommyBoy" will be the test pilot in the test plane. "Controller" is the flight controller. The conversation went something very similar to this:

Chase1: "TommyBoy I see smoke."
TommyBoy: "Roger, I have a fire light on the port engine. Hitting fire suppression."
Chase1: "TommyBoy, no change. Moving to your port side."
TommyBoy: "Roger."
Chase1: "TommyBoy, significant smoke and some flame from your port side."
TommyBoy: "Roger, heading to fuel dump site."
Chase1: "Roger."
Controller: "Rolling safety vehicles."
TommyBoy: "Roger"

Now, please understand that his plane was ON FIRE! At no point did either of them raise their voice, sound stressed or anything. The entire exchange sounded like they were discussing a new pair of shoes. The pilot flew to a predesignated fuel dump site, dumped all his fuel to lighten the plane, then circled around and landed safely. The chase plane stayed on his wing the entire time until his wheels hit the tarmac.

The poise of everyone involved was incredible.
"The Luggage had a straightforward way of dealing with things between it and its intended destination: it ignored them." -Terry Pratchett

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by kootenay joe » Thu Jan 23, 2020 5:52 pm

Quote: "I know it is all the training"
How are people trained to be calm in a chaotic situation ?
I have had experiences in the operating room with trauma patients and things not going well and voices do show the stress. Many doctors do not remain calm like pilots are able to do.
Nowhere in any medical training that i have ever heard about is there any discussion of how to remain calm in very stressful situations.
kj

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by dlr110 » Thu Jan 23, 2020 6:58 pm

It’s hard to explain kj, as you know, but let me tell you this little story. One time I was on a plane going back to school after a long holiday weekend. I was in ATC management school and I was reading one of my books, “Aircraft Accident and Reporting System.” Now this may not have been the best choice of books while flying at 30,000 feet and the look on the lady’s face sitting next to me confirmed that. We started to talk and she ask my how stressful was the job. My reply was “in the control tower you can see them and it’s just fun, in the radar room it’s like the best video game ever, just keep all the little dots on the screen from hitting each other.” I don’t think that answer gave her very much comfort.

In the tower you see and know everything that is going on. You see them responding to your instructions. In the radar room you only see the traffic in two dimensions and I did to some degree look at it as a great video game and I never let myself think of how many lives were on any aircraft. All it was, was just an airplane. There is no part of pilot or controller training that says this is how to stay calm or control the stress. You learn the rules, regulations and procedures, then you train and train until you can tell yourself I’m the best, but never forget you’re a part of a team and that it takes everyone working on that team to control what could become chaos in the blink of an eye. It doesn't hurt to be a little professionally arrogant also.
David R
Senior Chief, U.S. Navy (Ret)
DFW International Airport (Ret)
Personal Gallery of Knives: https://www.davidsblades.com/

::pray:: “If you have accepted God’s Salvation, you are a soldier in God’s army….are you prepared for battle?"

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by Quick Steel » Fri Jan 24, 2020 12:57 am

I recommend a 1999 movie, Pushing Tin. This is a comedy/drama about two NY air controllers who become rivals both during and after work. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton are the principals.
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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by Mumbleypeg » Fri Jan 24, 2020 1:15 am

It is mostly in the training, but part of the training needs to be practice. Experience is a huge part also, but some situations just aren’t conducive to getting experience. You train and practice hoping you never have to put what you’ve learned and practiced into use in a real-life situation.

First responders are good examples. Two good friends of ours, a married couple. He is an EMT and Fireman. His wife is a trauma nurse working in a hospital emergency room (that’s where they met). Both put their training into use daily, and therefore have a lot of experience. Medical emergencies happen daily.

But another friend is a law enforcement officer. He trains and practices frequently, but in over 20 years has never fired his service weapon while on duty.

Ken
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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by dlr110 » Fri Jan 24, 2020 1:35 am

Quick Steel wrote:
Fri Jan 24, 2020 12:57 am
I recommend a 1999 movie, Pushing Tin. This is a comedy/drama about two NY air controllers who become rivals both during and after work. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton are the principals.
It is a very entertaining movie, but do you know how many laughs controllers got out of that movie? ::rotflol:: ::rotflol::
David R
Senior Chief, U.S. Navy (Ret)
DFW International Airport (Ret)
Personal Gallery of Knives: https://www.davidsblades.com/

::pray:: “If you have accepted God’s Salvation, you are a soldier in God’s army….are you prepared for battle?"

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by dlr110 » Fri Jan 24, 2020 1:49 am

Mumbleypeg wrote:
Fri Jan 24, 2020 1:15 am
It is mostly in the training, but part of the training needs to be practice. Experience is a huge part also, but some situations just aren’t conducive to getting experience. You train and practice hoping you never have to put what you’ve learned and practiced into use in a real-life situation.

First responders are good examples. I have two good friends, a married couple. He is an EMT and Fireman. His wife is a trauma nurse (that’s where they met). Both put their training into use daily, and therefore have a lot of experience. Medical emergencies happen daily.

But another friend is a law enforcement officer. He trains and practices frequently, but in over 20 years has never fired his service weapon while on duty.

Ken
You're very correct Ken. As a controller and like the story I started this thread with, you train, train and every day at work you practice, practice and drill, drill on emergencies. When it happens all of that training, practice and drilling kicks in and you're too busy to be scared, it's when it's all over and when that adrenaline rush crashes, that's when you get scared. Thank the Lord these times are few and far between for any one facility and any one controller.
David R
Senior Chief, U.S. Navy (Ret)
DFW International Airport (Ret)
Personal Gallery of Knives: https://www.davidsblades.com/

::pray:: “If you have accepted God’s Salvation, you are a soldier in God’s army….are you prepared for battle?"

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Re: CONTROLLING CHAOS

Post by Quick Steel » Fri Jan 24, 2020 5:49 am

David, I'm sure you controllers got even more laughs than I did. I just remember one set up when Cusack gave a pilot to move into a tight space. The pilate objected and Cusack shouts that if he doesn't comply Cusack will keep the plane circling thru Christmas. I did think at the time that air controllers would get a big kick out of this film.
"Life is good if you don't weaken." AG Russell

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