Friday, January 3, 2014

Habit

Readers know that I am a big believer in habits.  When you're on fire your habits will take over; you're unlikely to invent a new technique.

No, this is not about New Year's Resolutions.

My first flight of 2014 was a paid maintenance flight.  Salt Lake City (KSLC) was really low IFR, pushing Category II minimums.  Good thing I wasn't going there.  Or was I?

As I departed home I saw a landing light coming down the airway from KSLC and sure enough pretty soon the Tower was talking to a SkyWest flight that had diverted after a long hold at KSLC.

Radar coverage is sparse in this area so Flight Following is generally unavailable; still I decided to at least listen to Center (the habit).  I heard a lot of non-standard phraseology:

"Climb and maintain Flight Level 290, I have to keep you below the holding stack."

"Are they missing [the approach] in Salt Lake?"

"What's the Salt Lake RVR?" [The answer was "I'll check" then "1,000 feet, but it looks like it's going down."

"Can we just circle visually?"

My destination, Twin Falls (KTWF) is one of the few non-radar approach control facilities in the USA.  I usually call Approach (that's the habit) and they usually don't care, but today the approach controller was juggling two unexpected jets in his head and it seemed wise to let him know that I was coming.  (My groundspeed was 65 knots, I would be coming for a loooong time.)  For the moment both jets were above me but I knew that that would inevitably change, so I stayed north of the runway 26 final approach.

"55J, say distance from Twin Falls please?"  He asked three times.

One jet was on final and the other was on right downwind, metal-to-metal with me.  I made sure my transponder was on so I'd show on the RJ's TCAS.

About 15 miles out I saw the RJ turn base and called "I've got the RJ turning right base in sight."

"Follow that RJ to the airport, contact Tower now on 118.2."

Now the use of the word "follow" might have been correct by the ATC handbook but I was indicating 95 knots with a 40 knot headwind, while the jet was indicating 200 knots with the same headwind.  The jet would be landed and the passengers deplaned before I landed, but I agreed and headed in.

The lesson here is that this was all no big deal, because of my habit.  It's my habit to contact Approach Control, even though 9 times out of 10 they don't care.  It's my habit to set up the radios for an instrument approach, so when the Tower asked for my distance all I had to do was look down at the DME display.

Habits.

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