Aircraft—Helicopter…7…3…9…Alpha…Sierra…5 miles to the East…inbound for landing direct to the ramp…
Unicom—Alpha…Sierra…no other reported traffic…winds are calm…
When is the last time someone bought a road map, we don’t need them any more with our smart phones. Siri tells me when to make a turn now, it’s so nice to ask for directions and know that in just a few seconds your route is laid out for you. My wife, Rossalene, and I drove to New York City once and without my phone I would probably still be driving around looking for my way out.
As good as technology is for driving, it’s even better for flying. When pilots are on instrument flight plans there are routes and intersections in the sky that air traffic controllers expect you to fly. Of course, you can’t see them but they expect you to know where those waypoints are and not deviate from the route. Every two months pilots were required to buy maps and pamphlets with the current airways and airport information guides, that information is on our iPads now. We still have to do the updates but now we just hit the download button whenever the little red flags pop up. That’s not a free service, we have to pay a yearly subscription, but it’s well worth it.
When flying on an instrument flight plan, you file your plan with air traffic controllers before you depart. That doesn’t mean you will be flying that plan though, controllers have the ability to make you change your plan to fit traffic needs during the flight. The first time I realized just how important an iPad was for flying instruments was when I was flying to Atlanta to watch Kentucky play Duke in basketball. Rossalene and I were just over Knoxville when the controller said, “November…3…9…4…3…Whiskey…we will be changing your flight plan, are you ready to copy?”
Controllers will read you the amended flight plan, you have to read it back correctly, then it’s up to you to follow the plan. That’s not that easy to do when you are in the clouds looking up your new route and trying to maintain the assigned altitude. I got out my paper maps and was trying to look up my new waypoints. I couldn’t find them so I asked the controller to give me a heading to fly while I was finding the route, then it dawned on me, type it into your iPad, there it was, it wasn’t anywhere near Knoxville, it was in Georgia, that’s why I couldn’t find it but my digital maps showed me the way. I changed the GPS that I was following to the new waypoints and I was on the right route.
When I got to Atlanta the controller at Atlanta Peachtree Airport which is just north of the big commercial airport and is where most small planes and corporate jets fly to, didn’t make me fly the rest of the flight plan, they gave me vectors to the runway. That sold me on my iPad and Foreflight program, not only can I type in the waypoint I’m looking for but I can also make the map size larger so it’s easier to read.
The Foreflight program also makes looking up weather much easier. Pilots used to fly over an airport and look down at the windsock to know which direction the wind was blowing, then weather stations were installed at most airports called AWOS (Automated Weather Observation Station). A pilot can tune in the right frequency and listen to the weather about 30 miles from the airport. Now, with Foreflight and an iPad the weather is available at any time during the flight.
Aviation technology has made following flight plans much easier than it used to be but I have also benefited by new aviation technologies with the utility helicopters that fly into Big Sandy. Many of you have seen the helicopter with a saw hanging underneath it that cuts power line right of ways. I know of three companies that are doing that now but the first to start doing that was from Tabor City, South Carolina. I have met the man who owned that company, William Cox, (no relation) he once had to fly to Big Sandy to work on one of his helicopters that had broken down here.
Mr. Cox didn’t come up with the idea, the person who thought of it used to cut right- of – way for electric companies and was also a helicopter pilot. He designed a saw on the end of a long aluminum pole (below) and started testing it on his farm in Mississippi. It worked so he added more saw blades and soon he had it perfected. He then patented his idea, but didn’t realize there was one major problem: the saw became hung in a tree during further testing and couldn’t be freed. Nothing worked to free the saw and the helicopter eventually ran out of fuel and crashed, the inventor died in the crash.
Mr. Cox bought the patent from the widow and added an ejector button so if the saw gets caught, the pilot can safely eject it and fly away. Mr. Cox told me that his company can cut more right of way with his saw in 10 minutes than a line crew can cut in ten hours from the ground. Occasionally his company and the other two companies that do this kind of work will work out of Big Sandy and buy fuel from us.
Did you know that natural gas leaks can be found by helicopters? I have a company working out of the airport now that looks for leaking gas lines. Eastern Kentucky has many miles of gas lines running over our hills and through our valleys, it adds up to thousands of miles of gas lines. The gas companies have all their gas lines mapped and the helicopter pilot has the gas line maps in his GPS navigation system. The pilot flies over the mapped lines at approximately 600 feet above the ground. The laser underneath the helicopter measures the density of the air, if the density has a sudden change, the technician will mark the location and a ground crew will be notified to check the line.
The pilot and technician have been flying out of Big Sandy for over a month, they sure get to see a lot our beautiful mountains. The pilot, Garrett, is from California and the technician, Drake, is from Louisiana, they are impressed by our trees and rugged terrain.
One of the first on the scene after the recent wind storm that took out so many trees and power lines, was the electric company’s chartered helicopters, flying the major transmission power lines. We all get frustrated when we are without electricity but during a storm like we just had, there are going to be trees over power lines. The first thing I notice any time I fly out of Big Sandy are the trees. When you are a thousand feet above the ground in Eastern Kentucky all you can see are the trees.
After the ice storm a couple of years ago, helicopters were used to set new power poles in the areas that were really hard to reach. A civilian Blackhawk helicopter was brought in from a company in Virginia and was used to set about 15 large poles, smaller helicopters were used to string the wires from ridge top to ridge top. That same company has a team of ‘daredevils’ that change out the insulators on those major transmission lines by hovering the helicopter beside the power line as the technician sits on a platform underneath the helicopter. His ‘office’ is about a 100 feet in the air, next to 12,000 volts of electricity, in the rotor wash of a helicopter. Think about that the next time you think you have a tough job.
Aircraft—Helicopter…7…3…9…Alpha…Sierra…departing the ramp to the Northeast…
Unicom—No other reported traffic…you guys be careful out there…
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager at Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties)