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Airline pilots landing at LAX report “a guy in jetpack” flying alongside them (thedrive.com)
900 points by x43b on Sept 1, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 473 comments



Took me a while to find on LiveATC as this wasn't actually on the Tower frequency, but here is the full feed: http://archive-server.liveatc.net/klax/KLAX-Final-Aug-31-202.... At 5:23.

Unfortunately their web player is not linkable, but this is the KLAX North/South Final Approach feed (https://www.liveatc.net/archive.php?m=klax6) from Aug 31, 0130-0200 UTC.


That is a friend of mine's site. If you live near an airport and have a good internet connection volunteer to provide a live feed.


I just used the contact form on the site because of this comment :)


I live close to LAX. I'll send them a message.


I bet there is plenty of coverage there for LAX already. In my impression, services like this (and even Flightradar24) at this day and age are mostly interested in coverage in spotty areas in rural areas and far away from civilization.

Don't get me wrong! I'm not trying to demotivate you. Just letting you know that maybe they'll turn you down. However, even if they do so, you can always learn a lot by doing so... and it's quite cheap, and redundancy is always welcome, right? :)


"Only in LA." at 6:15.


“Or Louisiana” a few seconds after.


[7:46]

ATC: Traffic off to your right, north complex, the airplane. Traffic to your SOUTH, do you see anything out there?

Pilot: We've got the traffic in sight, and we're looking for the, err, jetpack guy


Also known as LA!


Some of these guy's videos have been taken in Dubai, even one where he flies next to a commercial plane.


Which guy?


>> They are also very high-profile in nature and require a mothership to launch from, such as a helicopter, or at least a very high point to leap from.

No. Yves "Jetman" Rossi's design can now launch from a standing position on the ground. It is able to launch, hover, transition to forward flight and zoom-climb to several thousand feet. Other than the landing, which is currently still via parachute ... ironman.


Wow - so he can - here's a video https://youtu.be/lK75XLUIKUk?t=8



Took me a few goes to realize that psychedelic alien ribbon sidescrolling at the end is in fact a river https://i.imgur.com/ln61VPZ.mp4


Why is the parallax so crazy?

What is the behind/top?


I'd love to know the answer. Also, turns out it's not a river but a "swoop pond":

https://goo.gl/maps/pSZVqNJatFoyY6ge9

https://i.imgur.com/MkFmo5v.png

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plqEYjIcOow

(bonus blooper https://youtu.be/-rMy8CvHhAw?t=3)


I did.

www.jetman.com has more infos

But nothing on the actual jetpack, like how the engine works.

But here they actually fly next to a jet. So maybe it was those guys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VPvKl6ezyc&feature=emb_rel_...


There's a how the engine works / is made video here https://youtu.be/oYpG0HDcFsA which I think is a similar model to the Jetcat P400 Wikipedia says the jetpack uses.


I can imagine a next heist movie.


Whenever I watch this video and the other jetman videos I can't help but try to find anomalies or something wrong in the video to somehow try and prove that it is CGI (which I know it's not).


Same. I studied aerospace engineering and know that small-scale jetpack flight is possible to do, and yet I cannot help but scan for weird lighting changes or lens incongruities whenever I see a video. It's so insane to see these things.


How does this not burn his legs off?


Bypass ratio and entrainment. Most of the air coming through is cool, so the overall air is merely hot, rather than “melts your legs”.


Would love if someone could answer this or knows of a video that explains jetpacks well


His titanium legs are the real story here


From another viewpoint: people fly turbine-powered model aircraft all the time. Why wouldn't you believe it?


Well for one, where is the fuel? Seems like it would take a tremendous amount of fuel and there are no visible fuel tanks on the jetpack.


They only have a flight time of about two minutes. It appears longer because they stitch together clips strategically.

Edit: It appears that I confused Vince Reffet with another "jetpack guy" - Richard Browning. The number was for Browning's device. But although you could get more airtime by adding wings, the overall point still stands - the flights are relatively short.


It's probably in the wing/back thing.


That depends on how long you want to fly for.


Inside the wing is logical, it's pretty thick and planes have it there as well.


They glide for most of the flight.


Those turbine-powered models aren't carrying 100+ kg of payload?


These rc model turbines pull 20+ kg thrust. In the video he uses turbines noticeably larger, in 50-60kg class. Granted such small turbines have low efficiency - low compression - so they burn 0.2kg fuel per 10 kg thrust per minute. Thus 4kg per minute for 200kg total weight of which fuel is 60kg at best, thus 15 minutes hover at best.

Once it becomes more popular we'll get turbofans, and that will improve the efficiency.


That lines up pretty well with the demonstrated performance of these setups, I think they all have ~15min flying time.

Can't wait for the turbofan versions! :D


How heavy of a battery would you need to power these with enough electricity to lift an adult human, think like a drone on steroids...


Lift for how long?

https://www.tmotoruavdrone.com/product-detail/48968207323300...

Looks like the motor you need. 25KW


And you'd need four of those, I'd guess... so 100kW or so.


with 57inch props - large beasts though so it would be a personal helicopter style suit (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Jetpack) not true jetpack - it makes 94kg thrust at 23kw, so 2 of them is enough with 60kg/7kwh battery making for 9 minutes of hover (though full discharge is truly bad for the batteries).


Think its this one pretty much

>Thrust 395 Newton ( 39,5 Kg) http://modelaircraftcompany.com/newshop/en/home/89-jetcat-p4...

four of them so about 158 kg thrust total? It's impressive how well they work for what seems quite a simple and relatively inexpensive device.


Interesting TED talk from nearly a decade ago (before VTOL): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2sT9KoII_M


Even if it's not Rossi, whose design has been years in the making, I think a copycat is most likely here. Rossi's wing operates at 4000+ feet and 189mph, which is comparable to jets slowing down on long final. Those hobby jet engines are very expensive but off the shelf, and anyone can build a wing in their garage. The FAA would classify it as an aircraft (already has), and would like to talk to this operator.

I think you can rule out the multirotor bathtubs for now.


“I’ve got a phone number for you to write down. Are you ready to record it?”

“Uh...no?”

I imagine a jet pack forces some interesting takes on related technology that pilots are used to having access to when in a cockpit.


For the non-pilots: if ATC gives you a phone number to call after you land, it means you really screwed up. (It's the number for the supervisor, who is thinking about filing a "pilot deviation report" with the FAA.)


The pilots I know describe these calls informally as,

"Mr. Braithwaite, would you step into my office? Bring your license, and a match."


This thread spurred me to listen to some clips, and I just happened across an 'I'll give you the number when you're ready to copy' example:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=mUSUXnr4dSo


<dj kahlid>Another one</dj kahlid>

https://youtu.be/OrRRMoDC_jA


a 400N jet engine is now only 6000$. Building a wing with a TWR > 1.0 would only cost about 18 000$ in engines, which is really not that much.


You don't need a TWR anywhere near 1.0. You need that to take off vertically, but if you are willing to jump out of a helicopter you can probably get away with TWRs closer to 0.35 to maintain level flight.


Even the Helicopter may not be necessary if you can start with a BASE jump. Or set up a catapult.


Preferably an ACME catapult.


No. Their products are terrible, please, just trust me, I've tried them all.


If things go poorly, just open your umbrella.


Or a kite!


You could use droppable skids or wheels for takeoff, if you don't mind enduring flight at, what, 60 knots at least, in ground effect, with your nose about a foot away from the runway. I can't imagine any sane person doing that, but this guy would probably have had the time of his life.


Yes, indeed, but a jetpack specifically refers to a device that is able to hover and take off vertically. But yes, you could make it even cheaper and lighter then, but would need something to help you take off.


But you have to have a helicopter pilot around who don’t know it’s not okay you do it, which basically has zero chance.


It is also odd that they said "in a jetpack" rather than wearing or riding on/under a jetpack. Might this also be a very small but conventional aircraft? Might it be a mannequin mounted inside a smaller drone? Size gets distorted in these situations.

(FYI those hobby jets are one option, but there are considerably more capable small jets available, mostly used for cruise missiles and heavy drones.)


"in a jetpack" is just a colloquial way of saying "wearing a jetpack". other examples of this type of language include:

"Do you see that man in the suit over there?"

"the suspect in body armor was described as being 6 feet tall."

"man in an orange shirt" is the title of a popular pbs show.

etc etc etc.


Airline pilots typically earn their 1500-hour minimum for their license in "small but conventional aircraft" so the odds of them mistaking one for a jetpack is approximately zero.


And I probably have 5000+ hours driving cars. That doesn't mean I don't occasionally confuse one type of road vehicle for another, especially when dealing with odd/rare types.


"There's a guy on rollerskates doing 85 on the freeway... oh my bad, it's actually a Ford Fiesta."


You often confuse motorcycles for cars?


At night, sure. Many times I've met a car with a broken headlight, only realizing it's not a motorcycle as we're passing. I don't know if this happened at night, but visibility can be reduced for other reasons as well.


This one is scary to me, as a motorcycle rider. The other one that’s not fun: some motorcycles have two separate headlights on the front (low and high beams) and can be wired so that both can be on at once. What are you looking at? A car that’s really far away or a motorcycle that’s really close?

Please watch out for motorcyclists. The blindness people have for us is astonishing. And terrifying.


I've had that on a bicycle. The bike had two small side by side halogens on the handlebars, I was on a main road when a car pulled straight out of a side turning and into the side of me. I released afterwards he'd glanced down the road, seen two small lights and assumed it was a car far enough away for him to pull out.

On motorbikes I've had drivers in side roads look me in the eye and then pull out. On occasion I've ended up having words, and it's always "Sorry mate I didn't see you".


>it's always "Sorry mate I didn't see you".

Ah, the SMIDSY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqQBubilSXU&t=387s

That video covers the optical illusion that leads to it and what motorcycles can do.


Well yeah, when you remove 99% of the visual information it can be hard to tell if it's a motorcycle.


In those cases were you certain what you saw was a motorcycle before realizing otherwise? Or did you wait until you passed to be sure?


I do. Those 3 wheel cars/bikes in California...


Would they confuse two particular models of twin-engine piston Cessna? Maybe (but still, probably not).

Will they confuse a seaplane for a blimp? No.


Or report a weather balloon as a UFO? Or see a plastic bag and report it as a drone? Or try to land on the taxiway thinking it is a runway? Such mistakes happen regularly. Given the lack of photography in this case, I lean towards misidentification rather than a rocketman on approach to LAX.


There’s at least one video out there of a ‘flying inflatable doll’ attached to a drone. Could be something like that...


At this point, this feels like the most correct speculation.


Yeah, that's plausible too.


Zapata’s Flyboard Air has much the same capabilities, as doors the Gravity Industries suit.


Seem not, maximum 100 mph (edit: for flyboard. Gravity Industries max is 84 mph)

https://atlanticflyboard.com/flyboard-air

https://gravity.co/experience/


Oh cmon, 16mph difference in top speed is still "much the same".

Yves Rossy's wing: Optimized for forward flight, has VTOL capability, bulky.

Zapata's flyboard: Good middle ground, VTOL with decent speed, restricts ground movement.

Gravity jetsuit: Optimized for hovering, lightweight, can walk in it.

They're all doing much the same thing though, strap some jets onto a human and allow them to fly with VTOL.


The full paragraph shows they aren't necessarily referring to Rossi's design not being able to launch from a standing position, but the newer generation of jetpacks in general. It's not very clearly written though, and does make it easy to assume they are referring to Rossi's jetpack along with the others they are lumping together.

There are a number of new jetpack-like designs that are remarkably capable, but all have very limited range and most have only very low-altitude flight envelopes. Yves "Jetman" Rossi's winged jetpack is definitely capable of such a feat, but his flights have always occurred under highly controlled and well-coordinated circumstances and in sanitized airspace. They are also very high-profile in nature and require a mothership to launch from, such as a helicopter, or at least a very high point to leap from.


Source?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj-Iwv5NJKg

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/17/tech/jetman-dubai-trnd/index....

"The achievement occurred last Friday, when Jetman pilot Vince Reffett took off from a standing start on the runway at Skydive Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then flew up to nearly 6,000 feet in altitude. He demonstrated the ability to hover, stop, turn and maneuver."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de_YJzKeGKU

Go to about 3 minutes in to see the take off from standing and continuing to hover.


As amusing as this is, it highlights how fragile air travel is -- someone managed to fly a 200 lb payload within a couple hundred feet of an airliner on final approach. And apparently did so anonymously since there was no mention of who or exactly what it was.

It wouldn't be hard to maneuver it right in front of the airliner and cause a collision. While the aircraft would likely survive an engine strike, at only a few thousand feet of altitude it doesn't give much time to recover.


All sorts of transportation are very fragile. Everyone with a driver's license is trusted with operating tons of steel that can move at enormous speeds.

Society's based on some amount of mutual trust. We can't lock everything down and treat every person as a potential criminal. That leads to an inefficient and dystopian country.


If you have ever cycled on a national road, you know that this "mutual trust" fades away rather quickly in favor of "I can save 1 min and probably will avoid killing this guy if I accelerate right now".


Cyclists need not be involved. Just this morning on my way in to work I watched an SUV overtake me, decide they also needed to pass the guy in front of me, and accelerate up a hill in the wrong lane, not coming back into the correct lane until after cresting it. I later passed them as they waited to turn right at the next stoplight. People are just crazy stupid sometimes.


Mutually assured destruction, more than mutual trust.


> Everyone with a driver's license is trusted with operating tons of steel that can move at enormous speeds.

That's why you have to pay for insurance (in most places at least) so that you are pre-paying for your liability.


I mean, you're supposed to, and you'll get in trouble if you're caught driving without valid insurance. However, there isn't anything physically stopping people from driving irresponsibly.


> there isn't anything physically stopping people from driving irresponsibly.

Having recently driven on South Florida freeways, I can vouch for this statement.


Yes but you can also drive without a license at all in the same way.


Well at the risk of sounding pedantic, things on rails - railways, metro/subway etc. are not in same category.


That chap tried to hit the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship with his cargo locomotive because he thought it was a human experimentation ship https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/04/02/trai...

Would have been top news if it weren't for the fact that America was reeling from an explosion of cases in the COVID19 pandemic.


texting while driving is also a concern for train engineers: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-train-crash/train-eng...


On the contrary, you need to defend the entire length of the track at all times from an enemy who can destroy any small part of it at any time and then just leave the scene to try again later. Yes, it takes much more effort than a driver just deciding to go on a rampage, but against a determined adversary the train is at a huge disadvantage.


Derailing a train is an ordeal, though, and it's fairly easy to surveil against it. I'm fairly certain just blowing up the locomotive is less effort against modern networked rails.


Interference with railroad property, primarily oriented towards theft and even hijacking trains, was a very serious problem for much of railroad history. Ongoing issues with everything from train robberies to theft of the actual rails is what lead to major railroads forming some of the first nationwide law enforcement organizations. The FBI, for example, was directly modeled on the Union Pacific Railroad Police.

While train robberies are now decidedly rare, railroad police still exist today to patrol and protect the right-of-way, particularly in cities where theft, vandalism, and interference remains a real safety hazard. While less glamorous than train robbery, a common problem today is the theft of metal from signals, which disables the signals and creates a possible safety hazard.


A used rocket launcher was found next to the tracks for the transit system in Atlanta a few years back. Don't know if they ever found out how it got there but it certainly gave some uneasiness that there might be someone around looking to blow up passing passenger rail cars.


>Don't know if they ever found out how it got there

"I don't want the ATF to shoot my dog"

<proceeds to dump spent launcher tube they stole from work wherever is convenient>


Agreed. It was decidedly a big problem in the past.


>Derailing a train is an ordeal, though,

They make train de-railers specifically to protect work crews in rail yards. Someone who doesn't care about removing it later could just weld a similar shape (a slice of L channel would probably work in a pinch) to a track with some batteries. It should only take about 30sec if you walk up to the track ready to go.


Anecdote time: I was in a train that hit a bunch of concrete slabs at medium speed (60 km/h?) and all I noticed was that it rapidly stopped.

But that was a relatively undetermined attack. What if someone welds something directly on to the rails or cuts something out? It may get noticed in tens of minutes, but is that really fast enough?

Similarly it seems like it wouldn't be insanely hard to poison water supplies, doing some damage before it gets shut off or destroy other bits of infrastructure (I hear it has been tried with the electricity grid).

Society is a fairly complex machine and I'm surprised how well it works.


Years ago I knew someone who worked for the local waterworks and asked what they do to prevent the water supply from being poisoned. He said while they do test on a regular basis, the real security is in the dilution factor as you'd need a really large quantity of any poison to effectively contaminate a reservoir. A biological contaminate that reproduces would be an easier attack but I'm guessing that's where the frequent testing comes in to catch it before it gets to a deadly concentration.


Cutting out the rail is unlikely to cause huge damage, and welding something directly to the rail would take quite some time and be noticeable. Just putting a few sensors every few meters and networking them then stopping the train would work.

But I am also surprised how well it works. I think people just don't suck as much as one would expect.


> A few sensors every few meters.

The US has a total length of about 300 000km of railway network and that probably counts multi-track connections once. And it doesn’t include subway or anything. So that would be a lot of sensors that need to be placed and maintained. And you’d need to except some failure of sensors, so you cannot just stop if a single sensor goes haywire.

It’s certainly not impossible, but also not trivially done.


Cutting the rail would also break the track circuit and force signals to red.


OTOH the fragility of the original comment was about wilfully disrupting transports.

It's pretty easy to significantly distrust rail transportation. There are hundreds of rail suicides every year, and each and every time the line shuts down until everything's cleaned up. And of course you could destructively interfere with the train or railway, a rather common sabotage operation during WWII.


I can't seem to find a source, I heard about a culture (maybe Japanese?) where suicide by train is rare because of the inconvenience it causes others and the shame that brings your family.

When you go through the math on lost productivity due to train delays, you get some interesting conclusions. If a commuter train has 1,000 passengers making an average of $50 per hour who are, a delay is $833 per minute. That means it's more efficient (not going to touch on ethics or legality) to make minimal accommodations for disabled passengers and provide them point-to-point car service, instead.


According to wikipedia, suicide by train is common in Japan. In an effort to suppress this, life insurance policies often refuse to pay out for suicide by train and surviving family members may be fined.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_methods#Rail


Japanese train stations also have soothing blue lights to prevent suicide and specially created jingles that are supposed to calm people down.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-22/the-amazi...


Wasn't there a guy who crashed the train he was driving because he'd been radicalised by Q nonsense?


Yes, a train engineer at the Port of Los Angeles intentionlly crashed his train in April because he was suspicious of the nearby Navy hospital ship Mercy.

'“You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. I had to," Moreno told investigators, according to the complaint. "People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”'

(Nothing about this story makes sense to me.)

https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/04/02/trai...


He must've been hoping the earth was flat enough that he could drive the train across water or something. Simultaneously amazing and terrifying that he could be put in charge of something so deadly despite what I'm sure is obvious mental instability.


Back in the 90s a domestic terrorist derailed an Amtrak train in Arizona.

https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/best-reads/2015/1...


they aren't easy to derail? aren't wet leaves enough to cause issues?


Issues with braking, not derailment.


How about wet leaves before a turn?


A few /thousand/ feet AGL is more than enough time for the autothrottle to recover without the autopilot (or the PF) needing to sacrifice speed to maintain the glideslope (assuming no other systems on the plane were damaged, of course). At even 1000 feet, you're still more than a minute from touchdown, which is enough time for the PNF to recognise the problem and run the engine shutdown checklist.

It would be much more severe if it occurred at, say, 300 feet. Not enough time to fully react, but still far enough from touchdown that sacrificing speed could lead you to a stall before you get it on the ground, or before the autothrottle can respond (on the other engine(s)).


Autothrottle is not made to deal with engine failures, we do that manually.

You don't want the autothrottle to add thrust in an asymmetric situation, that's far more dangerous than losing a couple of kt or temporarily accepting a small deviation below glideslope. Because with asymmetric thrust, any power change causes yaw that you need to counteract that with rudder. You want manual control over both to ensure they happen in coordination.


Definitely more detrimental on takeoff than on landing I would think.


The so-called V-speeds are calculated before takeoff; the 3 most prominent are V1 (the speed at which, during the takeoff roll, it is no longer safe to abort the takeoff, because you are going too fast. If anything goes wrong past this point, you continue the takeoff anyway), Vr (rotation, i.e. pulling the yoke/stick back, getting into the air), and V2 (the safe single-engine-failure climb-out speed).

Immediately before takeoff, the autothrottle is configured to maintain V2 speed; so no, an engine failure on takeoff is an event you are always already prepared for.

EDIT: For the 777 for example, and (that I know of) all other Boeing aircraft and probably Airbus too (but don't quote me on that), you can also see your V-speeds on the speed tape during the takeoff roll. This video shows them on the 777, they're the green numbers on the far left. The flight crew also calls them out. Finally, the green arrow pointing upwards or downwards is the projection of what your speed will be 10 seconds from now. Note how the programmed speed (top left, purple) is the V2 speed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uw9P-aMFYE0


Autothrottle is not in speed mode for any transport category airplane on takeoff. You set a thrust demand and it maintains that.

The V2 speed is achieved by pitching for that specific airspeed, followed by an acceleration phase and flap retraction schedule if necessary.

Source: I'm a commercial pilot


Yes, that's depicted in the video I linked (THR REF is thrust mode). I didn't mean to imply that the autothrottle will only stay at V2 speed, but rather that the automation won't go below it.


But that's my point, automation doesn't hold V2 for you. On engine failure during takeoff you immediately disconnect the autopilot, then manually stabilize the yaw with rudder, adjust thrust and retract gear (and flaps in steps). Then manually fly the climb at V2 speed. All the automation does is indicate the correct speed on the PFD speedtape to help you decide what to do.


Very fragile. It always baffles me how close to the ground airplanes fly during take-off and landing and how there aren't lunatics messing with them more often. In the US there are places where it is legal for a regular Joe to stand underneath an airplane on approach, 200ft off the ground with the type of gun/rifle that could cause serious damage and bring it down.


I'm not sure what you're trying to get at here. Doing such a thing is already illegal, so making it illegal to also be under the flight path won't stop that person; by definition, they already don't care about the law.


Presumably if it were illegal there would be some security in place. Maybe a fine, but maybe even a security camera, or a larger fenced area, or whatever. Something beyond nothing at all. My home depot has more security around the garden center than the fringes of the airfield at LAX. Right now you can picnic under planes taking off right outside LAX. If you wanted to invoke some asymmetrical warfare, just open your picnic basket and fly your quad copter drone straight up into the flight path.


Airplanes fly close to the ground during take off and landing because that's where they're going or coming from...


I see where the commenter is coming from. We spend millions of dollars on technology that can see your manhood perfectly through your clothes, yet 300 yards away from every TSA checkpoint at any american airport is some rusty po dunk fence where you are pretty much in range of striking the engine of a jet plane with a well flung rock. It's an asymmetric warfare specialist's wet dream, and the whole purpose of creating the TSA was in response to asymmetric warfare. It's baffling why we even bother, unless you remember that people are making a good deal of money off of this graft selling manhood scanners to the taxpayer.


Yup. Air Travel is very fragile.

That is why I never understand people who back flying car projects.


It's not only fragile, it's also crazy on energy consumption.


Is there really anything stopping someone from taking a little gopro mounted drone and crashing it into the engine of a 747 taking off at LAX? I doubt you'd even get caught if you are on the move immediately before LAPD rallies a police helicopter. I don't know why this sort of stuff doesn't happen way more often, be it state actor or insane person.


I have thought about how fragile airport security is anytime I drive to an airport. Its almost like we are wasting money on TSA but like... The airstrips only guarded from public roads by a fence that I cant imagine takes much effort to get past.

Others have also mentioned its not impossible to weaponize a laptop battery. Hell get enough cell phones on board?


Honestly just a well flung pipe bomb over the fence from outside the property line would do some damage to an airport.


ATCs have a reputation for never losing their cool and that really shines through here:

“Tower, there’s a guy in a jetpack flying outside.”

“Copy. To your left or your right?”


I listened to the audio book of “The Only Plane in the Sky” (do recommend), and they played real recordings of ATCs on 9/11 as the planes were hitting buildings.

It was surreal listening to them talk about the catastrophe but all while maintaining a total sense of calm.


During my Interaction Design master I had to read a paper about the interface design for tools aiding people in these kinds of jobs. The designers spent a lot of time observing them at work and concluded that one specific feature of this work environment was that it doesn't have a "normal" situation and "emergency" situation, it's a non-stop juggling of emergencies all the time. Which I guess is part of why they stayed calm: you can't switch to panic mode if you're already constantly in that kind of stress situation, and anyone who can't handle that will be filtered out of those kinds of jobs very quickly.


Glassdoor says they earn $30k - $64k yet lots of us earn more in our comfy office jobs typing code into a text editor, kinda puts things into perspective.


It's amazing how much leverage an employer has when they have the legal right to simply fire everyone, and there is no recourse for the employees because the employer is the federal government itself.

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/05/reagan-fires-11-00...


Or Mozilla


For people who won't click, here are some salient facts:

this air traffic controller strike occurred in 1981

In 1955, Congress had made such strikes punishable by fines or a one-year jail term

a law the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1971

You don't like it? Then don't take the job. Take a job where you do have the ability to go out on strike.

When you simply cater to union-protected municipal employees, you wind up with the following, discussed on HN twice in the last day:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24350022

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24342828

We found truck drivers loaded up with $262,898; city painters making $270,190; firefighters earning $316,306; and plumbing supervisors cleaning up $348,291 every year. One deputy sheriff earned $574,595 last year – including $315,896 in overtime

All paid for by tax dollars.


As a Canadian, I'm horrified—HORRIFIED!—by the legal theft called "taxation."

Those pampered government employees up here with their unions and pensions and benefits. It's awful. All they do is make our country work. If only we could get rid of them all and let private enterprise take over.

Think of how much better our country would be if we scrapped public transit and let Uber and Lyft take over everything.

Likewise, we could get rid of our ridiculously terrible public health care and adopt a sane model where the market provides. After all, markets mean efficiencies, that's why Americans pay less for healthcare, and get better outcomes than socialist hell-holes like Canada and Germany and the Nordics.

If taxation is theft, we should not only be able to fire people who are paid with our taxes, we should be able to jail them as accessories to the crime, and make them stay there until they pay back every ill-gotten cent.

I have spoken.


The highest-paid public employee in most states is a football coach.


I think glassdoor is full of shit.

https://123atc.com/salary

More like 70-180, and then the potential for significant overtime as well.


This makes way more sense. From the person I knew in ATC a while back, it actually paid pretty well.

Plus you're a federal employee, so the benefits tend to be quite good and make up for a lower salary.


I know all the ATC types I knew in the military were looking at pretty lucrative careers when they left active duty.


The hours can be pretty rough, though.


To be really blunt, I reckon it's just supply and demand: there's not that many jobs (relatively few airports in the world compared to other entire industries) and a relative lot of people who love it, and would rather do it than earn a bit more at a lower stress higher paid similarly skilled desk job & hobby listen-in/plane-spot.


I don't think that quite holds up. Sure, lots of people want to do it, but lots of people want to be professional athletes or surgeons or [insert prestigious job here] as well. Similarly, this kind of work is extremely demanding, and very critical - the consequences of incompetent traffic controllers would be disastrous - so there's still a low supply of people who actually are a right fit for the job. In a sane job market that should still give these traffic controllers some bargaining power.

Then again, I guess braythwayt's comment[0] is real-world proof that we're not really dealing with a sane job market, so I'm clearly missing something crucial in my line of thought here.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24346728


Would you be able to provide a link to the paper? Sounds like an interesting read.


It may well be this classic from my old office colleague https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=Rich...


Thank you, his air traffic control paper was definitely one of the papers involved, but I couldn't quite remember the right name of the design field - "computer-supported cooperative work"[0] - so I failed to find it again. I also read few other ones, including one about the London underground that described a situation where these traffic controllers were both looking at their screens, but also constantly listening to their colleagues in their periphery. This let them adjust their strategies for handling emergencies on-the-fly as new information became known[1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer-supported_cooperative...

[1] http://www.academia.edu/download/48677152/Collaboration_and_...


The New York Times interactive feature on this is excellent. Includes some phone and radio traffic from the air defense system as well.

http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/...


Wow, thanks for the link. Morbidly fascinating to hear it happen in real time. Looks like there was a huge lack of clarity during the whole thing - I bet this spurred big changes in the way ATC, towers and military interact.


Speaking of, and coming up on the anniversary in September, here is a description of what a passenger experienced in a plane on that day:

"On 9/11, I was listening to Ch. 9. I was on a flight out of ORD to AZ (757) seated in 5F. We had just taken off and where climbing to cruise. A flight out of Rockford, IL was squeezing between us and the UA in front of us. I watched as he lined up to get on the highway westbound. Then, abruptly, the Rockford flight called ATC and requested immediate clearance to return to home. ATC responded with some quick direction and asked if they were experiencing trouble. No, just directed to return home by company pronto. Hmmm, strange I thought.

Then the UA in front of us requested emergency clearance back to ORD. Loooong pause from ATC. Now, this is Chicago Center air space. There are no pauses. Certainly not 30-40 seconds of dead air. Hmm, man that is weird, I thought. Then like a starters pistol went off, the comm light up. Another plane req. clearance, then another, another.... boom, boom, boom. Nothing from ATC. I nudged the guy next to me and said put on Ch. 9. He could see by the expression on my face, I was serious.

ATC got on the air and started by saying this was going to go quick and pilots needed to listen up. "Protocol responses are not required, just do exactly as I say quickly". Then it began. "UA ###, turn right heading blah, blah expect Springfield airport. SWA ###, turn left heading blah, blah expect Rockford. Delta ###...." This went on for about 3 solid minutes before I rang the bell for the FA who was passing out breakfast. Our number had not yet been called. The FA came by and I said "We are all going back to O'Hare, they are landing every plane in the sky. What is going on?!?" She looked at me in disbelief and kind of leaned down to look out the window. I could see that she was about to start to tell me not to worry about it when we pitched right at about 45*s. It was so quick it nearly dumped the FA in my lap.

Her expression changed quickly. I could see she knew that was no turn you make in a 757 under normal conditions. She said, I will be right back and picked up the comm. She went flush. Not saying a word, not "ok", not "goodbye", not "I understand"... nothing, she hung up the phone. I don't know why I remember that she did not respond so vividly in my mind but it took the whole thing up a notch for me. I knew she thought this was very serious and was scared. She walked right back to me, scooped up my tray and said in a voice full of authority, "Pull up your chair, put away your tray table and buckle up, now. We are landing in a few minutes. The pilot will be on with more instructions in a few minutes." I was frozen. In the ten steps it took her to get from the phone to me, her whole demeanor changed from shocked to pissed.

By this time, ATC comm on ch. 9 had been cut off. We were pitching left and right, then right and left and descending fast. It was about 5 minutes before the pilot came on and said "Ladies and gentlemen, please listen very carefully, We have been instructed by the FAA to land immediately. There has been a security breach in the system and we will be on the ground in Chicago in a few minutes. Listen carefully to the FAs instructions and do as they as say please." click. Huh!?! Instructed by the FAA? Not ATC... FAA!! Whaaa?!? Security breach in "the system"? What does that mean? Did some guy run through the check point at the airport? Now, I was scared.

A couple more minutes of quick turns and fast drops go by. The pilot (a woman, I don't know why I mention that but I remember it clearly) comes back on the comm. "This is the captain. We will be landing quickly in Des Moines, IA. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin." click. Hard turn right, hard turn left... the FAs are barking out instructions on the comm. Now I can see planes everywhere around us. There had to be a dozen so close I could tell the company clearly. I could discern the 7-5s from the 7-3s, the AB320s from the 319s.

We were at about 8 thousand by now. It was less than 3 minutes since we last heard from the pilot and she was on again. "This is the captain. We will be landing at the Quad Cities airport in 4 minutes. When we land we have been instructed not to approach the terminal. Please remain calm and we will back with instructions as soon as possible." click. Now I could hear a woman crying a few rows behind me.

Our last turn to hit the glide path was so sharp I could see the corn rows in the fields below. There was a SWA 7-3 easily within a mile and a half behind us as we fish tailed, it seemed, into runway alignment. Gears go down way late. We are going much faster than a normal approach. 2k now.... 1500, 1... touchdown... hard. Heavy brakes for a good bit then they release and we roll all the way down to the end and turn right toward the terminal. I look back down the runway and the SWA 7-3 is about 500yrds off the end of the runway. This would have been a "go around" under normal circumstances. Behind Southwest, they are stacked up on a string. 8-10 planes maybe... boom, boom, boom. Big ones too.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" I hear a voice behind me. I turn, it's a man on his cell. 'Two planes hit the WTC. They are on fire...both buildings." We are in the terminal in a flash it seemed. I made a few calls and went to the rental counter and secured a car (a fire engine red, Dodge minivan) before I sat in this tiny airport and watch TV for about 4 hours. By the time I decided to go back to Chicago, the rental counters were chaos. I slowly made my way through the crowd announcing rides were available back to ORD for any takers, follow me out. Outside I turned around to see I had five takers, 2 men, 3 women. One was a UA FA. We barely spoke a word the whole way back. I don't even remember any of their names. ORD was closed and I dropped ‘em off one by one at various places around the city. Then home for me. I'll never forget where I was or that Ch. 9 was a part of it. I still have the stub from the flight. UA 1969, ORD to Phoenix, seat 5F.

https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-airlines-mileageplus/...


Thank you for posting this. Everyone has their "where were you" story from that horrific day, but I never get tired of hearing them for some reason. Hard to believe it's nearly been two decades - I can still almost feel the chill in the air of that morning, it was an absolutely perfect fall day on the East Coast.


There was a window cleaner trapped in an elevator between floors who used a squeegee to stab the plaster and escape.

When I last worked it out - he had about 7 minutes to escape the area of collapse. Intense when you're half way up a skyscraper with no working elevators.


Yeah it is impossible to forget. My wife at the time and I got a call waking us from a friend telling us to turn on the news. It was all surreal from that moment on. The second plane may have just hit the second tower by the time we turned on the TV and they didn't know quite what happened yet.


I am not even from the United States and I got a call to turn on the TV.

That was before the second plane. I couldn't believe it. We did have access to US channels and the reporters appeared to be confused when the second plane hit and thought it was a replay.


I've never lived in the US either, but I got a phone call from my partner who was panicking about George Bush starting WW3. I said that wasn't really a concern, it was just a terrorist attack and you can't really nuke terrorists.

To be fair, we never really know what some of the more loopy US presidents may do, though.


i've stopped thinking about it because I can't deal with the fact that it was nineteen years ago. Nineteen!


Great post. I was confused by "channel 9" since I thought there may be rules or regulations against receiving ATC on a plane, but for anyone else who didn't know exactly what it referred to, it is (was?) an inflight entertainment feature of United Airlines.

https://www.pilotsofamerica.com/community/threads/united-air...


Yes. One of the greatest perks of United that they eventually phased out.

You'd tune your headset to Channel 9 on most aircraft and list to ATC just between the tower and your plane. I'd listen to it many times just to understand when we'd get a delay, maintenance issue, airport slowness..etc.


It got me over my fear of flying because I got to learn what the pilots (and the Center) thought about the turbulence we were experiencing and how they were responding to it.

It also inspired me to write the original version of this Wikipedia article

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_control_center

I used to prefer flying United over other airlines because they had it; now that they don't, I don't. :-(


See also Microsoft's Channel 9, which was named after channel 9 on United Airline flights.

https://channel9.msdn.com/About/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_9_%28Microsoft%29


It was just a channel on the UA entertainment system (audio) where the pilots could choose to make the ATC transmissions audible to the passengers (if desired). It was highly spotty because enough pilots had bad experiences (or believed they would) based on passengers asking them annoying questions or reporting things that didn't need to be reported, or generally causing more trouble than it was worth.


I still miss channel 9 when I'm taking a United flight. It was by far the best channel on the entire in-flight audio system.


I don't have a 9/11 flying story but exactly the week before 9/11 my family and I flew United 93 from Newark to SFO. I was woken up at 6 AM by my family in New Jersey calling me to tell me they were all safe which confused me until I booted up my computer and saw the headlines on Yahoo! News. I didn't save my boarding pass stub.


Wow, that's an amazing story!

I wonder how many of these pilots flew fighters or something for the Air Force before they took a job flying airliners.

I wonder how a fully automated system like we often think about would handle a situation like this.


A friend of mine had just been married in Europe, and was in the air over the Atlantic on the way to his honeymoon in Hawaii when this happened. His plane was diverted to somewhere in Canada (New Foundland?), and he got to spend his honeymoon in a school gym on cots.


US closed the border and airspace, and all sorts of international flights had to find somewhere to touch down. The huge Cold-War-era airport at Gander is now mostly one of the two major ATC zones for the North Atlantic flyways, and usually gets a few diverted flights a day. That morning, they got 38 planes, including a lot of widebodies. 7,000 passengers and crew, with an indefinite stay (ended up being like 3 days) in a town with 10,000 residents. The town of Gander (and surrounding hamlets) put everyone up. It's a sweet story from a tragic time. Gander's the only place outside of the US with a monument from WTC steel. There's a catchy Broadway soundtrack (haven't seen the play) about story called 'Come From Away'.


What a story. It's hard to believe that actually happened. It's also sad to see the changes in the world since that awful time.


Wow what a read. Thanks for taking the time to write this.


It is quite admirable. I respect someone able to communicate effectively in a high stakes situation.


I recommend listening to the flight director loops from the Apollo missions. There are thousands of recorded hours available (various places, but try lunarmodule5’s playlists on Youtube, or https://apolloinrealtime.org/ for a museum exhibit style) - including practically the entirety of missions 8 to 13, and most especially try the notorious manual burn of 13 during which everyone sounds like they’re discussing where to have lunch, not undertaking an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous manoeuvre in a crippled spacecraft.

Sometimes I put them on as working background audio, it’s tremendously soothing.


"Ok, let's keep the chatter down".

I've always loved Kranz'(?) comment even more than the moment of first contact itself. As if to say "Stop cashing out on one historic achievement and work with us to make many more".



was going to post this myself if it wasn't in the thread already :) hey paul!


hey peter! i admit to being more of a deep space one fan myself, but with MC, DS1 and Space Station Soma, there's something for nearly everyone.


"1202" Which translates as The guidance computer just crashed.

https://www.wired.com/story/apollo-11-mission-out-of-control...


While reading through the comments here, I found this link yesterday. Took me down a rabbit hole. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYBhgEm3j7A


There are youtube videos of ATC recordings (with transcripts) of pilots losing their cool. You are right, I don't think any ATC lost their cool in any of the recordings I've listened to.

This quote from the article made me smile:

>> Another pilot chimed in: "Only in LA."


Not ATC but here's a classic viral recording of a frazzled ground controller herding cats at JFK airport in NY:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BMDkwfkXv0


A couple of years ago there was bad weather just before the oshkosh air show. Which is the largest in the USA.

When the weather cleared, EVERYONE flew in. It was chaos.

I am unable to find the recording, but ATC was like "high wing, low wing, if you have a wing, turn left"

https://www.reddit.com/r/flying/comments/910sge/the_adsb_at_...


Absolutely lost it about a minute in when he goes "you guys can't.. Just do that.."


Well, ground controllers are notorious for being constantly annoyed... and I can't blame them. When they're on tower duty it's less common.


Can you expand a little bit? I thought all ATC that talked to planes were in the towers.


A tower controller at an airport talks to planes in the air as they arrive and depart. They are in the tower so they can see the planes visually, and may also have radar available.

Ground control also works in the tower, after all they have to be able to see the airport taxiways. They may also have a separate ground radar. They are only talking to planes on the ground.

At a busy airport, these will be separate individuals working each of these duties.

At a less busy airport, or during quieter hours, the same controller may work both tower and ground simultaneously.

There are also "center" controllers who work in the enroute traffic centers. They are not in towers and often not at any airport, as they talk with planes at altitude and work by radar and voice communication, not visual.

For example, in a typical departure, you first talk to ground control for taxi clearance and instructions. When you are ready for departure (near but not yet on the runway!) ground will say "contact tower on 123.45" (or whatever frequency), and tower will clear you for takeoff. After you've taken off, tower may say "contact center on 124.56" (again, whatever the frequency is).

While you're flying, each center controller will hand you off to a different center (and different frequency) which you cross between the different areas that the different centers cover.

For landing, it's the same thing in reverse order: center hands you off to tower as you approach the airport, and after you're on the runway, tower hands you off to ground (who again is up in the tower, but only talking to planes on the ground) for taxi instructions.


Great explanation, thank you.


And the reason why ground controllers often have much higher workloads is that at a busy airport things happen far quicker on the ground. Every plane you move you pretty much move another plane into its place.


A visualization for those exchanges: https://youtu.be/GcFfVEstt4o


Thanks for that! It's interesting (to me) that they descend (well, ascend!) into politeness with both pilots and controller addressing each other 'sir'.


Kennedy Steve is pretty famous (now retired). There's an interview with him on YouTube that's neat.


I'm pretty sure that particular video is not Kennedy Steve. Here is a Kennedy Steve collection https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_ei74pHoe4qfmuVrmQYP...


I don't understand all the jargon but it sounds great with a New York accent.


Most of it is just using the ICAO/NATO phonetic alphabet to identify taxiways by their one- or two-letter codes. It makes a bit more sense if you have a JFK taxiway map in front of you.


> I don't think any ATC lost their cool in any of the recordings I've listened to.

Tune into LGA or JFK on any given Thursday; examples for miles


Stakes are higher when you're on the plane...


Negative. Pilots only ever have to worry about one plane. ATCs have to worry about all of them.


Yes, but it’s like the difference between the chicken and the pig at breakfast.


This comparison flew over my head easily at about 20,000 feet, anyone else? Can someone give me clearance to land this bird, 20L please.


There’s several variations due to varying languages, dialects, and such but I always heard what he’s referring to phrased like this:

> ”The chicken is involved but the pig is committed.”

That is, while both are needed to make breakfast, the pig has a bigger stake in the project.

The chicken may be providing the eggs but the pig is being eaten!



Bringing the egg....versus being the bacon.


It falls flat because people eat chicken for breakfast too..


when used rhetorically it's usually with an explicit context of "bacon & eggs" or "ham & eggs"


Wait but what if I’m eating oyakodon with some crumbled bacon on top?

/kidding, I know this is an absurd stretch of the terms, appreciate all the explanations.


The chicken is interested but the pig is invested.


But that one plane has you on it.


ATCs rarely have to worry about dying in the accident.


You don't need to be physically sat on the plane to emphasise with the severity of the situation. It's not like ATCs are willing pilots to die. And sometimes not being able to physically control the actions of the pilots can add to the stress.


I can relate to this from rock climbing. Typically one climber at a time leads while the other belays (manages the rope). The leader is the one at physical risk but the most scared I've felt has been belaying.

Being the belayer means you don't have much control and are mostly just watching closely and hoping your buddy doesn't get hurt. Being in a scary lead situation forces you to concentrate which pushes a lot of the fear emotions aside. Worry and fear take a lot of energy, energy which often can't be spared in an emergency where you have some control over the situation.


I wasn't claiming that ATC isn't one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. Merely agreeing with GP that the pilot has more skin in the game.


The point of the conversation was about which is more stressful. Obviously having "more skin in the game" would directly increase the stress levels but yourself and others who posted like you completely miss the point that the ATCs are there to ensure safe travel and they very much are invested in that mission too. Comments like "well they're not going to die so why would they lose their cool" are just harsh and entirely miss the point of why the ATC are there in the first place.

The key reason for why ATC don't lose their cool has nothing to do with who is more stressed or has more "skin in the game" and everything to do with the fact that if ATC lose their cool then the pilot is more likely to die... and possibly other planes and their passengers and crew too. In order to save lives ATC have to keep their cool even when everyone else around them panics. That's the real crux of the matter.


In addition to what you say here, most of the ATC job is about maintaining order and safety, while for a pilot there are many other factors (and accidents happen when pilots get distracted by those other factors). The ATC is constantly thinking about possible accidents, while the pilot has more opportunity to have their thoughts elsewhere.


The term I've heard is 'task saturation' and I absolutely love it (the term, not the situation). (The solution proposed is usually to pull some science staff from science into operation, which luckily didn't have to happen so far.)


> ATCs rarely have to worry about dying in the accident.

ATC can have a larger stake than any single pilot. Consider a mid air collision scenario, for instance.

They will handle more lives daily than a pilot. Don't dismiss it.

ATC involved in incidents can suffer from severe PTSD.


They just need to forever live believing their mistake caused the death of 350 people?


Would that fear of future shame be as primal as the fear of imminent death, at the moment of conflict?


Probably, people regularly place their own lives as a much lower priority than the group their part of. I assume most air traffic controllers get emotionally invested as their actively talking to the pilots involved.


I’d rather die than kill hundreds of people in error.


That may be true, but your brain reacts at a more primitive level in the moment.


That really depends on the person and situation. Some people get really emotional, but it’s also common for people in highly stressful life or death situations to emotionally shut down and end up going through rote responses. This is dangerous because you effectively lose creativity and can easily get stuck in a loop repeatedly doing the same things.

One example is WWII commanders would sometimes continue to bring ammunition to machine gun nests even when just adding it to large piles. It may have been the best option when they start, but they never revisit that choice. The same thing happens to pilots where people investigate a crash and find pilots keep doing the exact same thing that’s not working for several minutes without considering that perhaps some assumption they have is wrong.

Finally, some people don’t seem to react much at all to such personal risks.


Pilots are solely responsible for the safety of the plane and the passengers, not ATC. ATC is an aid for the pilot in this responsibility.


> Another pilot chimed in: "Only in LA."

The SR71 radio speed check was in LA too.

  I heard a Cessna ask for a readout of its ground speed. 
    '90 knots Center replied.
  Moments later,a Twin Beech required the same.
   '120 knots' Center answered.

  We weren’t the only ones proud of our ground speed that day
  as almost instantly an F-18 smugly transmitted:
   'Ah, Center, Dusty 52 requests ground speed readout.'
  There was a slight pause, then the response, 
   '620 knots on the ground, Dusty.'

  As I was thinking to myself how ripe a situation this was, 
  I heard a familiar click of a radio transmission coming from my 
  back-seater. It was at that precise moment I realized Walt and I 
  had become a real crew, for we were both thinking in unison.

   'Center, Aspen 20, you got a ground speed readout for us?'
  There was a longer than normal pause
   'Aspen, I show 1,942 knots.'

  No further inquiries were heard on that frequency.

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/sr-71-blackbird-pilot...


Another apocryphal story: A new ATC was working in Houston and got a call from a SR71 coming back to the states through the Gulf of Mexico.

The SR71 requested flight level 800.

The ATC, thinking someone was joking, said, "If you can get up there, FL800 is yours."

The SR71 replied, "Maam, we're coming down to 800."


For those unfamiliar with the terminology, add two zeros to the end of the flight level to get the altitude in feet.


That story is often told but is generally considered apocryphal. There is too much wrong with it procedurally. It's funny, but not likely a conversation that actually happened.


I thought it was apocryphal as well, but this is the pilot who did it. https://youtu.be/8AyHH9G9et0

Not saying it’s impossible that he made it up or embellished, but it seems likely that it actually happened.


That video is not a one-off. The guy now works as a motivational speaker doing 2-3 of these SR-71 themed speeches every week (http://galleryonepublishing.com/BlackbirdStores/News.html).

I'm sure he wouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story.


Other sled drivers have noted how fast & loose Shul can be with the facts.


I haven’t looked that far into it, I just watched that video when Youtube recommended it. The written story that I’ve seen online was uncredited, so seeing someone talk about it made it seem more likely to have occurred (at least to me).


I would like to know exactly which frequency/airspace he was using that allowed all mentioned parties to hear each other.


It's not unreasonable that the SR 71 was listening on the frequency of the airspace beneath them - if the're had been an emergency, it's always better to have a picture of who's on the frequency/within that airspace.


Dont under estimate what the military get up to. The MK1 Lynx helicopter (Westland Lynx) didnt have a black box flight recorder, and as it had the world speed record, many pilots when entertaining new recruits would attempt to scare the wotsit out of them by flying over the mountain tops of Wales before nose diving the chopper towards the valley floor to see how fast they could get it to go. Noisy! On a par with flying with The Blades who are ex Red Arrow pilots.


What's the procedural problem with it?

It's possibly a little too cute or maybe embellished, but there's nothing in it that sounds impossible or beyond plausibility.

For reference I have a pilot's license.


The upthread-linked Reddit debunk [0] is A) SR71 would've been on a different frequency to both other planes; B) ATC computers at the time were capped at 990 knots; C) SR71s' speeds were classified, no way the crew would've asked or ATC responded with it.

Unfortunately.

https://np.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/8x5ndw/til_wh...


Correct, people keep repeating this story - it's false. I know controllers who have actually controlled the U2 and SR71 and they've explained why it's not true (they don't use the same freq, etc.).

Also Brian Shul (the originator of this anecdote) and his RSO were the only SR71 crew removed from the program. There is a reason for that.


Would you mind explaining the reason? His Wikipedia page [0] doesn't mention anything, although it does mention the story with four citations. One explicitly states "Though they didn’t really control us, they did monitor our movement across their scope." [1]

Off topic, but be sure to run Javascript on theaviationgeekclub.com or else the code that breaks your clipboard will fail to run.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Shul

[1] https://theaviationgeekclub.com/sr-71-blackbird-pilot-tells-...



The SR-71's top speed is still classified to this day, partly because they probably still don't know what it was, because nobody ever got one there. Shul's plane was cruising probably far below max speed (the number wasn't 1942, I don't remember exactly what he said it was).

As to "not using the same freq", military aircraft have radios with knobs that turn. They can certainly monitor and talk on civilian frequencies if they see fit to do so, and they fly in and out of civilian airports regularly on ferry flights (not the SR-71 obviously, but I know for a fact F-18s do all the time, because I used to stand duty at a command that owned a bunch of them and we had to file reports on what airport they were at). If they can't talk on civilian frequencies, how would that work? And they fly through civilian ATC owned airspace, they absolutely have to talk to civilian ATC.

As to Shul being removed from the program, have never heard that -- I'm not likely to take the word of some random on the internet about it.


They used UHF to talk to ATC.

Related post: https://www.airlinepilotforums.com/archive/index.php/t-56350...


> SR71s' speeds were classified

Even after the transatlantic world record "fastest air-breathing manned aircraft" flights in 1976? Especially if they were flying below the record speeds (depends on the exact numbers, going by wikipedia, the record was for approx. 1905 knots, which of course is lower than the figure in the story)?

(But, yeah, I've heard plenty of people, including other SR71 pilots in interviews, question the validity of Shul's stories)


The SR-71's "speeds" are not classified. You can even download the long ago declassified manual that says what the max mach number it can display is.

The actual top speed might still be, if it is, it's probably because they don't actually know what it really is. There have been multiple pilots who have said they could pretty much keep giving it gas and it would keep going faster.


Well if someone on reddit said it convincingly it’s settled.


Come on, I didn't claim that. I responded to 'someone on HN claiming to have a pilots licence' who couldn't see a reason it wasn't plausible. I'm just offering three anti-plausability reasons someone else on the internet had.


In the original version I read they were in a blackbird and the pilot wanted to request the ground speed very badly but felt he shouldn't because he didn't think his partner would find it appropriate. Then just as it seemed like the opportunity was going to pass he felt the radio click and his partner requested the airspeed. They were a real crew after that.


I am pretty sure that ATC is trained to sound calm. I’ve been listening to ATC recordings at the worse the emergency is the more calm the controller is. I think it is deliberate to help the pilot concentrate and not panic.


Listening to the atc recording of Southwest 1380 incident, the pilot goes "we have an engine failure and I'm told a passenger has been sucked out" there's a pause and ATC goes, with some shock in his voice, "what?" Before the pilot responds, he quickly recovers and goes "it's not important, which runway would you like" and carries on as normal.


Amazing professionalism - and the whole thing is worth a listen to, but there wasn't any shock - he didn't even mention it, just presumably updated the medical team he was sending to the runway.

https://youtu.be/FkVTdvcghHc?t=377


https://youtu.be/cnSizWZVyD4?t=387 at 6:50ish in this one at responds. "You said there is a hole and someone went out? It doesn't matter, we'll work it out. The airport is just off your right." I guess it's not as "shocked" or "in disbelief" as I remember it being the first time I listened to it. (I vividly remember the first time I heard this, hence why I had to go look for it or figure out what I was remembering.)


still - apologies for suggesting you misremembered, I didn't realize my version was abridged!

Thanks for the link with more of the audio - there's definitely at least a tinge of disbelief!


I mean, it's rather moot at that point right?


A pilots job is to "aviate, navigate, and communicate", in that order. It's improper for ATC, especially in an emergency, to be asking them for irrelevant details as it's forcing the pilot to consider the question, which takes mental energy away from aviating and navigating.


There's probably recordings publicly available somewhere, but I thought the same thing when listening to the Columbia disaster.

It was the first space disaster play out in real time over the internet. NASA streamed mission control communication on their site. We got everything unfiltered. The nation just lost a pride and joy, and mission control was incredibly calm and professional throughout. I was constantly hitting refresh on Slashdot, and then someone posted, "NASA just updated the mission status page to 'Lost'." It was just so weird looking at those words on screen.


I was still in school, and science class happened to line up with the [Challenger] disaster. We had a substitute so I was used to that class being Bedlam anyway.

I walked in and didn't believe people when they said what happened. (I had a similar reaction when my spouse woke me up at the crack of dawn by announcing "They knocked down the Towers!") Then the sub rolls in a TV cart. Oh.

The other thing that struck me was that nobody editorialized what they were seeing. I knew that the twin smoke trails spiraling off to the sites were the SRBs, three seconds into the video. There was nothing else they could possibly be. But the announcer was very clear to say they might be the SRBs but we don't know anything yet. As an adult having sat through many lower-stakes RCA and production outage situations, I can respect their reserve. As a child it just made me even more upset.


I've got a few years on you evidently; I was in a college mechanical drafting class that had just let out after the disaster. As it was at UCF east of Orlando, I had to but look East and see it.


Columbia happened on a Saturday.


Heh. Yeah, they're clearly confused with Challenger.

A ne'er-do-well kid ran into my elementary school classroom and exclaimed, "The space shuttle exploded!" and the teacher turned on the TV.

For Columbia, I was driving to get bagels for breakfast. I was on the I-80 to I-5 interchange in Sacramento, CA when I first heard on the radio there was something wrong.


Yes, was thinking Challenger; where the SRB's that <parent> mentioned were relevant. Columbia I saw on TV with my toddler, who's a sophomore in college now.


I am thinking of the Challenger disaster (obviously Columbia had no SRBs at that point)


I believe they're talking about Challenger.


I keep remembering hearing Capcom keep saying "COLUMBIA HOUSTON,UHF COMM CHECK OVER" You could just tell every time he repeated that it just got harder and harder for him to say it with out cracking.


I went down the rabbit hole with this yesterday. Capcom on that mission was Colonel Charles Harbough, himself an astronaut. Looks like he retired from the military and flies for FedEx.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_O._Hobaugh


You just gave me flashbacks. I'd love to sit down and have a beer with that guy.


My father was a corporate pilot. Occasionally he had flights alone where he was picking up or delivering materials or light freight. He used to occasionally pull me out of school as a kid if he was flying alone, and I would ride in the right seat.

Once, flying from Western NY to Peoria Illinois, the tower came on to ask if he could find a pilot in the area, single engine, that was lost and in a slight panic. They new where he was, he had his transponder on, but were having difficulty getting him to follow directions. We were flying a light twin turboprop (Mitsubishi MU2-B) which can easily drop to low air speeds. We found the guy, and he followed off our left wing, so my father could keep an eye on him, and we took him to where he had clear visual of his destination airport. We then just continued on our way.

I had a headset on, and the flight controllers were so calm talking to that other pilot. It was like listening to Fred Rogers. I think my father only said a dozen words the whole time, acknowledging the request, declaring visual, and declaring visual on the airport.

We just continued our trip, but we did hear the other pilot declare base and final.


I love the incredulity in the pilot's voice as he says jetpack.

Someone please hurry up and make these sound bytes into an EDM song, thanks.


Sounds like the perfect thing for Public Service Broadcasting - love Go! by them which has NASA mission control as the main vocal..


Incidentally, do pilots say left and right? They don't have a special word (port / starboard) like naval vessels?


Yes. They use left/right. Port/starboard is useful when you have a crew of people running around doing jobs aboard a three-dimensional ship. Pilots are never more than two people sitting in fixed seats facing forwards. It is a much more linear environment than a ship.


More linear does make sense. "Full astern" is a thing for ships but not planes.

But it makes me wonder about helicopter pilots. Do they say left and right?


Yes.


Yes, pilots say left/right, although it is more common to use clock positions for that.

For example "traffic 3 o'clock" means there is someone on you right.

Port/starboard is not used in aviation and I don't know of any equivalent besides left/right.


> Port/starboard is not used in aviation

Some things seem to have been carried over though - you still almost always board an aircraft from the port side, don't you?

And port/left is still a red light, and starboard/right is still a green light, on aircraft.

A good way to remember all this is 'port is red and is passed to the left'.


A lot has been carried over. The alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie,...), units (nautical miles and knots).

Right of way rules are similar sailplanes have priority over powered aircraft, otherwise the one on the right has priority and in case of a face to face, you should turn right (or go up/down, but certainly not left)

They didn't completely reinvent navigation for aircraft and a lot of carry over is expected. I'd say port/starboard vs left/right is more of an exception than a rule, generally the same conventions are used when applicable.


Phonetic alphabet is more a radio convention than a navigational convention, and is also used by terrestrial radio users (ie military). Alfa/bravo/charlie was adopted as a NATO standard in the 1950’s; during WWII the US and U.K. used the able/baker/charley phonetic alphabet. And I think aviation adopted the NATO standard before maritime radio.


In sailing, the red/green lights help determine right of way and give way.

  If to starboard red appear, tis your duty to keep clear.
Red Right Returning is used for coming into port in the US. However, in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, parts of Africa and most of Asia it is the opposite.

https://www.cruisingworld.com/red-right-returning/


I think that "red, right, returning" mnemonic is more about the buoys, not the lights on the bow of your boat.


I've always heard, "Hell is on the left."


Pilots tend to not be oriented in any direction other than forward, unlike those aboard a boat who are more likely to be facing all manner of direction and an unambiguous term is needed.


Yep, left, right, up, down, ahead, behind. Although in reference to the parts of the plane you say forward and aft.


They say left and right as others have noted, but the main boarding doors on planes are supposedly on the left for the same reason the left is called the “port”. It appears to be a relic of the flying boat era of aviation.


There are a lot of such relics in aviation, for example distance is measured in nautical miles, speed in knots and the uniforms and ranks are also very much like their naval counter parts.


Nautical miles are used in navigation because one nautical mile equals one minute of latitude when you're traveling North/South, making it a very useful unit of measurement on oceans. Planes use it for the same reason. A knot is simply a speed of one nautical mile per hour, so it's a useful unit for speed when you're using nautical miles for distance.

So I wouldn't call these two specific examples relics, but I agree with you on uniforms & ranks.


Specifically, the nautical mile thing means that any chart with coordinates on it also has a scale in miles built-in.


Doesn't it serve the same purpose, to keep boats/planes going the same direction in the (air)port?

It seems less like a relic and more like applying an already found solution to the same problem.


Naval vessels also can and occasionally do use left/right when talking about some things (like heading changes) where the direction is expressed relative to the current heading, and would not be ambiguously interpretable. It's not common though.


Just in case someone on HN still haven't read the famous SR-71 speed check story: https://www.thesr71blackbird.com/Aircraft/Stories/sr-71-blac...


This is truly one of my favorite aviation stories of all time and reread it anytime it gets linked here.

Not sure why you are downvoted, it's the most relevant and humorous explanation of the calm, professional ATC "Houston Center" voice out there.


I haven't downvoted it personally, because I would really really really love it to be true - but it's been "debunked"(if you can call it that). I suspect some of it is true - but not exactly as told.

https://np.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/8x5ndw/til_wh...


> I used to be a controller at Los Angeles Center in the 90's, and worked Aspen SR-71's (and later under the NASA callsign when they flew them out of Edwards AFB). They could hear ATC but not other aircraft, because civilian aircraft are on VHF frequencies, military on UHF, and anybody above 60,000 feet (like the SR-71's) were on a separate, center-wide UHF frequency so they wouldn't have to switch frequencies constantly. So the SR-71 and F-18 pilots couldn't have heard those other aircraft requesting groundspeed, or heard each other for that matter.

Wait...military planes only have a single radio receiver? Military spy planes only have a single radio receiver?


I imagine they have multiple receivers and can listen to any number of frequencies at once, but as a pilot you won't be listening to civilian frequencies....because why would you? It's just noise that's getting in the way of the mission.


That's covered in the original story. This was a training mission, to get the crew up to the number of hours needed to be cleared to go on real missions. The reconnaissance systems officer (RSO) was the one listening to all the radios, not the pilot.

This seems a perfectly sensible thing for the RSO to do on a training mission, since on a real mission he might need to monitor multiple frequencies:

> I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital

At this point, they have passed their hours threshold and are heading back home. The pilot says:

> Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him.


Maybe, if they're that bored. But their transmissions won't be heard by the bug smashers down below.


They will if the pilot presses the appropriate TX selector button.


Technically true but that's bad protocol. If he did, it makes sense that he's the only pilot to be bounced out of the program.


Few aircraft have "receive only" radios, most have full Transceivers.

For redundancy they have multiple Transceivers, and most military radios cover both VHF and UHF.

For safety and redundancy the pilots can receive and transmit on any of their multiple radios just by (selecting the appropriate frequency) and pressing the appropriate Receive/Transmit selector buttons.

Many military aircraft also have secure (spread-spectrum) transceivers as separate units.

Many aircraft that fly over water also have VHF Marine radios fitted.


This is one of those cases where I try not to let the facts get in the way of a good story...


See also the lighthouse vs aircraft carrier story (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lighthouse_and_naval_vessel_ur...)


This has less to do with coolness than with the fact that the controller will most likely not be able to see the guy on the ASR, and I would assume that the guy has no transponder either. You can only control the airspace if you can see who/what is around.


Maybe I should mention that I was responsible for the testing of different ATC radar systems.


I imagine the radar signature of a wingsuiter is pretty small, even if they have an exhaust-belching rocket strapped on the thing.

How well do those show up on radar?


All of the conventional radar systems installed at airports are blind to this small human jetpack due to their limited resolution.

The newer type of radar for detecting debris exist at some airports but because of their main purpose is to monitor debris on the runaway it is only for short distance and not pointed to the sky.


The main purpose of the PSR is to detect potentially dangerous flying objects which have no transponders. The PSR we tested were able to also detect e.g. parachutes and paragliders. I would assume that the radar cross section of the winged jetpack is large enough for detection by current PSR.


Depending on the angle of incidence relative to the radar, the cross-section can be quite large. But the resolution of the radar is almost certainly not sufficient to see the small object near the aircraft.


On a civilian radar, they don't. Without a transponder the tower won't see you on their screens.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_radar

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_surveillance_radar


I was surprised by the use left/right for comms and not port/starboard - is that normal in the aircraft space? I guess it must be.


Port and starboard isn’t used on the radio at all. ATC will say things like “traffic 2 o’clock, left to right”.

The words left and right are fairly unmistakable and everyone understands them. Doesn’t have to be complicated!


2 o'clock right to left ;-)


Wait, is that AM or PM?


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