Friday, April 4, 2008

Class B silliness

I had some mathematical business in Salt Lake City, a great opportunity to fly the Archer. I invited my friend and student Dennis along so he could see what the big leagues are like. His radio work is excellent, so I knew he would pick things up quickly. But ATC kind of gave him the wrong impression...

[I will leave the Lockheed-Martin-FSS-bashing to others.]

We got flight following from Center on the way. I asked the last Center controller to arrange a handoff to Salt Lake Approach, which he promised. He sent us to the IFR arrival frequency. So far, so good.

It took a while for approach to answer, and then it was "Say request." Wasn't this a handoff? We got a new squawk code and a request for our position, but never heard "radar contact," although he acted like he saw us.

VFR arrivals from the north can choose the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake or Mountain Road, which passes very close to the mountains east of Salt Lake City. I asked the controller which he wanted, and he told us to "turn toward Point of the Mountain, make that Mountain Road, remain east of Hill AFB." Point of the Mountain is south of KSLC, 45 miles away, not an appropriate place for us to aim, but, hey, he caught the error himself.

He did not say "Cleared into the Class Bravo airspace." Dennis confirms this.

There were lots of F-16s in the air, launching from and recovering at Hill, and the frequency was busy. A Citation came on the frequency, headed to Ogden, but did not clue in to how busy it was, reading back in a slow drawl "Ohkay, y'all want Citation XXX to descend and maintain six thooouuuuuuuuuusand feet M S L?" And he was VFR! He missed a couple of turns, and the turn onto final, keeping the controller busy while we sped toward the Class B without a clearance. With two miles to go I spun myself, advising that we would circle "awaiting Class Bravo clearance." I honestly thought that his would jog his memory and he would give us the clearance, but I had done three full turns before a new controller came on. "I can't leave you on that heading," she said [WTF? We were circling!], "Fly heading 210 so I can get you west of Hill. Didn't the last controller give you Class B clearance?" I just read back "Two-one-zero, eight thousand, and negative on the clearance." I was a little peeved that the previous controller had ignored my request for clarification, sent me to the wrong place, and omitted the Class B clearance.

We crossed the Hill localizer, with lots of F-16s darting below us, while a pair cavorted in the airspace we had just vacated. Once west of Hill. she turned us back to the south, and as she handed me off to the next sector said "Thanks for your help."

That, I told Dennis, was the closest thing to an apology you'll ever get.

Things smoothed out after this, until landing. "Turn left at K7 and contact Ground point-niner," the tower controller said, using the previous aircraft's call sign. "Was that for us?" I asked, using our call sign, and he replied "Say request." I made the turn and called Ground.

Then came a mixup with a King Air, who did not understand the ground controller's request to call at the appropriate spot, as marked both on the taxi chart and on the pavement. "I cain't see no blue spot," he said. The controller told him to remain clear of the taxiway and give way to us.

We taxied closer but did not see the King Air. I guess the controller didn't either, for a while, and when he figured it out he asked with clear surprise in his voice if the King Air was "...still facing the hangar?!?" No wonder the guy saw nothing: he was looking the wrong way.

So, here are the results

ATC Errors

  • No-handoff handoff
  • No "radar contact"
  • vague clearance...
  • the wrong place
  • No Class B clearance, at least not out loud
  • long vector to correct side of valley
  • wrong call sign from tower

    Pilot Errors

  • Slow-talkin' VFR Citation
  • Bass-ackwards King Air

    All in all, not the greatest day on anyone's part.
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