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.
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.
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.
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.