Saturday, March 20, 2010

Right Deviation

Plowing contrails gives you a lot of time to think. You think about how the world is, and how you would change it if you were the planetary monarch. You think about how common sense and logical reasoning seem to have gone the way of Nehru jackets and bell bottoms. And then suddenly something happens that proves it.

I had just told the passengers to get their cameras ready. The Grand Canyon was ahead. You know what a nut I am about the Canyon. I'm a degreed geologist and the Canyon captures me into it every time I see it. Remember the post I wrote about following Buddha down into the Canyon in a pair of A-7s? (Mar 21 2008).

Approaching it from the east, I called the Los Angeles air route traffic control center and asked them, as I have done dozens of times, if they would approve a “canyon tour.” It's not a real “tour.” The pilots and controllers have informally dubbed it that over the decades. It's just an approval by the center to deviate slightly off course to overfly the Canyon and make a few S-turns so passengers on both sides can get good views. The people love it. 

But the controller's reply left me aghast. “I'm sorry we can't do that anymore.” I waited for elaboration but he offered none. I asked why. He said a new directive came down forbidding the controllers to approve Canyon deviations. He said he thought it came from outside the FAA from people concerned about noise levels in the park.

I looked at the first officer and we both shook our heads in disgust. Then I punched the mic button and registered my commentary: “No more kids in the towers. No more Canyon tours. What's it all coming to?”

A few long few seconds of silence passed. I imagined him pondering my rhetorical question. I expected he would probably call back and say, “Yeah, that's too bad,” or something similar. Then he called, but he didn't comment on the question. Instead he said, “There's an area of reported turbulence ahead. You're cleared to deviate right of course as necessary.” Right was exactly the direction we needed to turn to get over the Canyon.

I cracked a gigantic grin and pressed the mic button. “We're getting into it now. We'll deviate right and report when we are able to resume course.” There was no turbulence. The people got their view and after the flight many of them thanked us.

Maybe our noise did filter down faintly into the canyon and spoil the natural ambiance of some of the rim gawkers and hikers down there. But dammit, our passengers owned that Canyon too, and they deserved to experience its grandeur from above. I'm an out-doorsman and I love the wilderness, but I've got no apologies for letting a bit of jet noise settle into the Grand Canyon.

Yeah, if I was king, I'd command the return of common sense to the planet. And I'd appoint a certain guy sitting in a dark room in front of a radar console in Los Angeles to head up the effort.   

(Obviously some insolent first officer made 
this nasty write-up about his captain.)

Look at this amazing breached anticline in Wyoming:

Here's how it was created.
Amazing Creator.


Mark Richards said...

Cheers for that controller.

There is some humanity to be found under all those rocks.

Frank Van Haste said...


Outstanding. The pity is that you can't follow up with an "attaboy" for the controller...might get him in Dutch.



Bob said...


Hooray for the good guys on the ground and in the cockpit. Gotta give that controller credit for quick thinking, gotta give that Captain credit for not just rolling over and playing dead...


P.S. I love the geology stuff also!

Andy said...

Yeah..The "noise over the Canyon" has been all over the local news lately.

scott said...

Maybe I'm just the warped delusional son of a fighter jock, "The best pilot you ever saw", but if I was standing in that canyon and heard jet noise it would be more a reminder of how far humanity has come since it's creation. To look up and see a con trail 30,000 ft above my head and think, and now man crosses the country in just a few hours.

So what's next fly you guys well north or south of the canyon in the name of silence. Can people not see the absolute stupidity that exist everyday?

Here's one for you pop. Every time a jet or airplane flies over my head I stop what i'm doing to watch. The way I see it you, that airplane, and the company that owns it are stealing valuable production time. Therefore you owe my employer, my company reimbursement for this lost production. It's just crazy. We have a bunch of clowns running around this country who are so miserable and so bored and search so much for a purpose of life that the only thing they can come up with is fix the broken or break the unbroken in an attempt to fix it. Makes my head spin.

Mike Moe said...

The Emperor has no clothes.

Daniel said...

Well done you, and well done to the controller.

Flying down valleys in GA is always fun - Norwegian fjords, British Lake district, whatever's allowed. So long as someone in the right seat knows how to read a map so you don't end up somewhere you can't get out of (or you have an aircraft that can outclimb the ground - an A-7, say) then it's some of the most fun to be had when flying.

GreenPilot said...

great story! wish I'd been a passenger on this flight. kudos for being the type of captain ALL pilots should aspire to be one day. making the trip memorable is half the battle. nice work!