1) Earlier this month a big Air Force C-17 cargo plane landed, by mistake, at a little commuter airport near Tampa instead of at its real destination, MacDill Air Force Base. Here's a brief video of how it looked coming in:
How could this happen? Main reason is that the runway layout and orientation of the Peter O. Knight airport (KTPF, info here) can look similar to those at MacDill, if you're approaching from the northeast. Via Google Earth, here is the view of the Peter O. Knight airport:
And here, a little farther along on the same heading, is MacDill [correction OOPS. Original version of this post had wrong airport pictures, illustrating the problem...]
Of course, the main runway at McDill is more than three times as long as the one at Peter O Knight, but these things can be hard to judge from the air. (When you see a "short" runway, you have to decide whether it's actually short -- or whether it seems that way because you are high up and far away.*) Fortunately, the C-17 is designed for short-runway operations, and it managed to take off again.
2) Speaking of a spillover between military and civilian aviation, have you ever wondered how an "overhead approach" looks from inside an airplane? Probably not, but I have -- and here is why. In normal, civilian-aviation flying, your preparation for a landing is a steady and predictable process of slowing down, and descending, as you near the airport. This is usually referred to as "flying the pattern."
The "overhead approach," or overhead break, is a mainly military maneuver in which you head to the airport at full speed, and then at the last minute suddenly swoop down to the runway. For instance, naval aviators might come in for a carrier landing this way. My goal as a non-pro pilot is to avoid anything last-minute or sudden and instead to strive for the steady and predictable. But here is how it would look to fly an "overhead" in the same kind of plane I fly.
3) In the "general aviation" world of non-airline flight, a recording one of pilot's conversations with Air Traffic Controllers in and around New York has gotten tremendous attention. Here's the clip, with explanation below.
The plane to listen for has the call sign 1956S, spoken as "one nine five six Sierra." People familiar with flying and ATC discussion will quickly get the point here. In short, a phenomenally calm and good-humored controller in the busiest airspace in the world is telling a small-plane pilot to correct his course, and he ... resists the suggestion, as you will hear. The drama increases at around the two-minute mark, when airline pilots on the same frequency start wishing the controller "good luck!" at the end of their exchanges with her.
I have some extra audio clips involving this same flight that, for technical reasons, I'm not including just yet but will add later on. For now, it's a slice-of-life sample that reflects very well on the controller and, as pilots are discussing, not so well on parts of the amateur-aviation community.
* I've experienced something like this. Eight years ago I was setting up for a landing in Rapid City, South Dakota, whose airport identifier is the charming KRAP. (The official identifier code for most airports in the U.S. begins with K -- KLAX, KJFK, KSFO, etc.) KRAP is the one on the lower left in the Google Earth scene below. If you're coming from the southeast, as I was, the first airport you're likely to catch sight of is the much larger and longer one at Ellsworth Air Force base -- at the upper right in the scene below. I tell myself it's easy to make this mistake, because when I was about 30 miles out and just beginning to see a runway, the controller said, "Cirrus, unless you're planning to enlist in the Air Force, you'll want to turn ten degrees to the left. That's the airport you're looking for. It happens all the time." I appreciated his good humor and was glad I was not in a C-17.
Here is how the similar layout of the two airports looks on a "VFR Sectional Chart":
This article available online at: