In the Bubble and in the Air

24 Jul

Yesterday I got up early and drove to the airport. I was anxious to get back up in the airplane for a morning of flying. It has been nearly 3 months since I last flew.

I had planned on heading north from the airport to a nearby airport to practice takeoffs and landings at an airport with a shorter, narrower runway than St. Cloud Regional Airport. As I approached St Cloud my sunny blue skies at home were quickly changing to a low cloud cover.

The cloud ceilings were high enough I could fly at the airport but I didn’t want to risk them getting lower before I would return to the airport. I stayed in the traffic pattern practicing my takeoffs and landings. Each pass around the airport I tried to improve my landings, maintaining airspeeds, headings and altitude. It felt great to be back up in the plane.

St. Cloud Regional Airport FBO & Wright Aero Flight School

My other reason for heading to the airport was to say goodbye to my CFI. She called the night before last to tell me that yesterday would be her last day at the flight school. She would be moving on to St Louis, MO to a new position this weekend.

There have been a lot of changes at the flight school since the announcement by St. Cloud State University that they would be discontinuing their aviation program. It is very sad to see things changing at the flight school. There are very few familiar faces left there since I started my flight training 3 years ago. I loved going there and listening to the enthusiasm of the CFI’s and their students.

After I did my post flight on the airplane I said my goodbyes and then drove over to the control tower for my first visit there. I’ve driven to the airport the past three years and always wondered what it was like in the tower and how much they could actually see from the tower.

When I went up in the Control Tower after going through a couple of security points I met Jim the on-duty controller. He was very pleasant and offered to answer any questions I had as time was available. He showed me where he gets the weather from for the hourly ATIS report and I got to hear him record the new ATIS report for the pilots. After he finished with ATIS he went on to explain that since the Delta airspace at the St. Cloud Regional Airport has no radar so he has to rely on sight and radio reports of aircraft positions.

Cessna taking off from the St. Cloud Regional Airport on Runway 13. The view is from the control tower

While I was in the tower I heard a radio call from a Canadian plane that was headed for the airport. He reported his position but was having a little difficulty spotting the airport. Jim patiently asked about landmarks the pilot had seen on his way in and tried to direct him the airport. Jim gave me a pair of binoculars like the pair he was using so I could see if I could spot the plane on its approach.  I was amazed at how little distance the controller has to work with in spotting an inbound plane.

View of Runway 13 from the control tower with the windsock in the foreground. Runway 5/23 also in the foreground.

Jim referred to the tower as a bubble.”We are just high enough in our bubble to give us an aerial view of the ground operations but not much beyond that.” He pointed out that when we are landing on runway 13 which is at the farthest end of the runway from the tower there are times because of the trees on the horizon it is possible to lose visual contact with the airplanes especially small Cessna high wing aircraft that I fly.

One of the things that he said that makes his job more difficult is pilots who read back absolutely everything that the controller says to them especially when all the pilot would have to respond with would be “Roger” or respond in the affirmative. There are times when we are required a verbatim read back as in clearances but he said that a lot of the other talking we do is too wordy and eats up radio time that might be needed by another pilot. He said keeping things short and simple will help everyone.

After my trip up to the tower this week I know that had I been taken there early in my training that I could have done a better job at making the controller’s life simpler by reporting my position as accurately as possible and keeping my radio responses shorter, two things I will definitely work on in the future, thanks to Jim.


Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Flight training, Photography


Tags: , , , , , , ,

22 responses to “In the Bubble and in the Air

  1. Paula Tohline Calhoun

    July 24, 2011 at 7:30 am

    A Bubble in the Air – almost as good as the “Tiny Bubbles in the Wine,” (just call me Don(na) Ho!). Anyway, although I have never actually written out a “bucket list,” piloting an airplane is one of the items on my list. Don’t know if that will ever happen, but I’ve had far too much experience with the strange and mysterious ways that God works to count it out altogether! Another one of the items is to sky dive (probably tandem, but that’s OK). Our youngest, Matt, has done it a couple of times. Now that one, in spite of Hubs’ STRONG objections, is one I’m going to do. As I tell him, “Look, Honey, I hurt all the time anyway – why not hurt for a reason?” :mrgreen: (He’s not so much concerned about my jumping out as he is about landing! – as the old joke goes.)

    Keep ’em flying Jeanne, and then writing about it. I never tire of reading your stories of it, and I am flying with you vicariously. I won’t sit in your co-pilot’s seat, because I’m (prayerfully) assuming God is in that spot with you! As always, and especially this glorious Sabbath day, I wish you and all those you love enough. . .

  2. flyinggma

    July 24, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Thanks for your comments this morning Paula. I don’t have an official bucket list other than doing more traveling to new places. One thing that is NOT on my unofficial list is skydiving. Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Unless, of course, you didn’t trust the pilot:)

    Blessings to you and yours this beautiful but overcast morning! Jeanne

  3. pattisj

    July 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I love your accounts about flying. That is so far off MY radar, but I find it interesting.

    • flyinggma

      July 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm

      I’m glad you enjoy reading about my flying. It is why I originally started my blog. I hope as my girls finish college I will have more time and money available for flying adventures. I always enjoy reading other blogs to learn new things about other places. Blessings on your weekend!

  4. harrisonjones

    July 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Good for you, Jeanne. Glad to hear you’re still airworthy. The scariest thing I ever heard a controller say was, “Oh my God.” A lady working ground control at DFW during the late afternoon push. Probably 50 airplanes on the ground inbound and out. She was talking constantly and doing a great job when a commuter flight exited the runway after landing and turned the wrong way on the taxiway, finding himself stopped nose to nose with a 747. A moment of silence followed by, “Oh my God.”

    • flyinggma

      July 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      I found it remarkable how controllers multi-task. Jim had no visual reminder of where everyone was and I didn’t notice him taking notes of any kind but yet he stopped and gave direction when needed and kept checking in with the Canadian pilot.

      I don’t know if the only words out of my mouth would have been “Oh my God” if I were faced with the same situation. I’m thankful it didn’t turn out badly for either plane.

  5. Thomas Stazyk

    July 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Great pictures–I really enjoy your accounts of flying experiences.

    • flyinggma

      July 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks Thomas. There wasn’t as much traffic at the airport as I had hoped for when I started taking some pictures but it was very interesting just the same because the controller had a little more time available to explain things in the control tower. I hope to get some more exciting flights in this fall and see some fall colors like last fall. My sons bought an in car video camera for my husband’s race car and I thought it would be fun to take that up with us when I fly once for a different perspective.

  6. Linda

    July 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    That was very interesting. My dad was an air traffic controller in the air force when I was growing up but I didn’t know much about it.

    • flyinggma

      July 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm

      That must have been interesting work for him. I still don’t understand how they can keep track of everything and everyone. My Dad was an electrical engineer and never saw the inside of his workplace until his retirement party. It would have been fun to see him in action at his job.

  7. midlifepilot

    July 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Hi Jeanne, fantastic to hear of your latest flight! I’ve blogged recently, as you know, about the frustrating intervals between flights for we “weekend warriors”. (In fact just this morning I’ve had to postpone, yet again, my next and final cross-country training flight). So it’s really great to hear that not only can you still fly after 3 months, but that you enjoyed it too …

    Interesting to see the leafy greenery surrounding your local airport in mid-summer. Where I fly out of Sydney – Bankstown Airport – it’s pretty urban (so not much in the way of trees or green). Then out of the Sydney area, I’m flying over the typical faded greens of the Australian rural landscape – eucalypt khaki, and faded greens and browns of farming and pasture land. Somehow I’m picturing your mid-summer Minnesota flights as being rather more colourful – and then of course blazing in primary colours as you head into your autum!

    Your trip to the control tower sounds interesting. I’ve been lucky enough to go up in the Bankstown tower already (before I was a student pilot), but I definitely want to visit again knowing a bit more now. CASA (our Civil Aviation Safety Authority) runs regular “pilot info” nights with the ATC people, so I’m planning to hop along to the next one they hold in Sydney.

  8. flyinggma

    July 24, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    It was great to be back at the airport and flying again. The surrounding around the airport are much more lush and green this summer due to and extra wet summer. We have had so much rain that my yard feel soggy. We live on a lake and we have had to move our dock in three times this summer to accomodate the rising waters. Very unusual summer for sure.

    We will be mostly green until sometime in September when the leaves start turning for fall.

    We had information nights at various airports on various topics that I try to attend to keep up on the latest. Always a fun time of learning and talking to other pilots.

    Hope you can get your final cross-country training flight in. My last CC flight before my checkride was my favorite. I flew to Duluth, Minnesota which is on the shores of Lake Superior. Beautiful trip but a bit scary landing among the heavy planes and military planes at the airport. My little Cessna felt so small next to all the other planes. Have fun and fly safe! Jeanne

  9. writerwoman61

    July 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    The life of an air traffic controller must be hectic indeed…when we were sitting on our balcony at the hotel in St. Andrews last weekend, I watched four different jets fly over on the same flight path (different altitudes) in a half hour period! I wondered where they were all going…

    Glad you got up in a plane again, Jeanne!


    • flyinggma

      July 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      Our airport is a small one so a busy day here would be a piece of cake for some of those large city controllers but they still have their head in the game, busy or not. Before I learned how to fly I imagined who was flying the plane and all the exotic places they must be going as planes flew over our home.

      We stayed at a hotel next to the Madison, WI control tower. I could watch the comings and goings all evenings. Very fun.


  10. planejaner

    July 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Interesting post, Jeanne…and…in real life…don’t we all spend too much time blabbering away?

    When we are busy “outputting” we can’t receive…we can’t hear Someone else who might REALLY want to be speaking to us!

    lovely photos…glad you could get back in the air, and see things from a different and new perspective.


  11. flyinggma

    July 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Very true Jane. So many times I am not a good listener. I’m too busy thinking about a point I would like to make or a story to tell. Always room for improvement in my life for sure.
    Blessings to you, Jeanne

  12. Christine Grote

    July 25, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I am really impressed that you do this. You wouldn’t happen to know any Willings, would you?

    • flyinggma

      July 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

      Don’t know any Wilings. Are they from the Minnesota area?

      I love flying. I only wish I could figure out how to spend more time in the airplane but must work to fly….

  13. nrhatch

    July 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Really enjoyed this bird’s eye view. Thanks, Jeanne! Glad you had a chance to take off after so many months grounded. 😀

  14. flyinggma

    July 25, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    One of the most frustrating things about finally getting my PPL is that I haven’t had the time or the money to fly like I did weekly when I was learning.

    Hopefully things will change soon.

  15. Flight Training

    September 1, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Great photos and I appreciate the comments regarding eating up radio time. A good tip for pilots in training.

    • flyinggma

      September 1, 2011 at 11:22 am

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I really enjoyed my trip up to the control tower. It was nice to hear the controller’s perspective.


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