International Ops 2017

Flight Service Bureau | OPSGROUP

Author: Declan Selleck (page 1 of 16)

OpsGroup NYC Notam Summit – April 4th, 2017

JOIN US IN NYC

Tuesday, 4th April 2017- Manhattan, New York

 Ops Group Meetup and Notam Summit

We’ve never done this before, but we’re going to run our first OpsGroup meetup.  Emails and slacks are all fine, but human contact is where it’s at.  Come along and meet us and other awesome members of the OpsGroup!

Location: Secret downtown location in Manhattan, we’ll meet at 9am-ish on Tuesday morning, 4th April.  By 10am we’ll have kicked off into International Ops  2017 with Mark, NAT chats with Dave, Antarctica fireside stories with Jamie-Rose, and then move on to looking at stupid Notams and how to fix them.  You should come!

Here is the deal:

0900 You arrive. So will others. We will mostly be pilots, dispatchers, ATC’s and flight dept managers but whatever your specialty is, come along.

930-ish We’ll start with the International Ops Chats- NAT ops, Antarctica, 2017 changes, and your questions.

1100 We’re probably still going with the International Ops Chats

1130 We’re onto talking NOTAMS by now

1300 Powerpoint has overheated, we’re done. Off to Lunch

1330 We’ll be having a late lunch. Join us for chats and beers, war stories, jokes, or head home instead- whatever you like.

1500 That’s All Folks. We can recommend: A visit to Concorde, go see a show on Broadway like School of Rock, go see the Nicks v Bulls, visit the Comedy Cellar, or get your Uber back to the Teterboro Holiday Inn.

Afterwards, tell us what you thought: team@ops.group

Antarctica Fireside Chat

Jamie Rose McMillen from the FSB Int’l Desk is going to tell us some good stories from her six years living on the Ice.  Find out how International Ops works in Antarctica and McMurdo Station. Join us in NYC!

International Ops 2017

There have been a city-full of changes to the International Ops world so far in 2017.  A380 wake, no devices, BOE changes, ATC strike, Conflict Zones, 767 shooting, the end of Soviet QFE approaches. Mark will answer questions. Join us in NYC!

North Atlantic Changes

Dave Mumford will run through the new rules on the NAT, and answer questions from the My First Atlantic Flight guide. Just don’t ask him about the new contingency procedure. Join us in NYC!

NOTAMS

Judging is finally complete in the Notam Goat Show.  After we present the winners, we will have a good old fashioned competition, with prizes, and then get into the main event: How do we fix the Notam problem?

Join us in NYC!

COME TO NEW YORK!

RSVP

US 737 tests the China ADIZ

China: Go away quickly please
US Aircraft: Nope
China: Go away quickly!
US Aircraft: No!

The US is doing us all a huge favour at the moment. In fact, it’s been providing this service to the world for some time.

Every so often, a country extends its borders a little too far – outside the normal 12nm limit, for example. China has been busy. They’ve been building some things in the South China Sea. Islands, in fact. And on those islands they’ve built runways, control towers, and big radars. Naturally, they confirmed last Friday that they are for civilian use only. Hmmm.

So the US dusts off an airplane and knocks on the door. Flies around for a bit. Sees what’s going on. And reminds the country that international waters are just that. They publish a list each year of where they’ve done this. Worth a read.

In 2013 they popped up an ADIZ. And made everyone passing through it copy their Flight Plans to Beijing. In principle, ADIZ’s are a pretty good idea. The normal 12nm isn’t really much time for the military to figure out if you’re coming to bomb them. Especially on the weekend.

But you can’t tell airplanes to get out of an ADIZ. It’s an Identification Zone, not an Intercept Zone. So, normally ADIZ’s require you to squawk something and have a Flight Plan.

That much is OK. But China has been warning aircraft to get out of ‘their airspace’. And it’s not. This 737 (aka P-8 Poseidon) went for a nosey.

These operations help us all operating internationally to have less rules to worry about. Which is good.

 

Initially, most abided by the 2015 ADIZ rules. In 2016 that adherence quietly eroded. And China quietly didn’t care too much. It did threaten a second ADIZ in the South China Sea, but since the first one didn’t really take off, they probably won’t.

It’s part of a bigger diplomatic game. Interesting to watch, though.

Unsafe Airspace update – French Guiana, Egypt

Flight Service Bureau has issued the 2nd Unsafe Airspace Summary for 2017, effective March 26th. Through safeairspace.net, FSB and members of OpsGroup work together to share information on risks and threats affecting Airspace and Airports around the world, and make this information available to all aircraft operators. Read about our mission here.

In this edition, the changes since January 2017 are:

  • New advisory (Level 3) for French Guiana (protests, airports closed). 26MAR17 Widespread protests, increasing in size. Avoid travel. SOCA/Cayenne has no fuel available, and per US Diplo reports 24MAR is closed. SOOG/St. Georges, SOOC/Camopi, and SOOR/Regina are closed. Monitor SafeAirspace.net for updates.
  • New summary for Egypt (SA-7 missile found), fresh GPS jamming warnings.
  • Updated warnings for Mali, Kenya, Pakistan, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Philippines.

Further Reading:

  • You can download the new PDF summary directly (600kb).
  • View the map at safeairspace.net
  • Join OPSGROUP for direct updates.

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the cabin – before and after the wake turbulence encounter

The Challenger 604 vs Airbus 380 story has gone once around the world.

But is it even true? Some have asked. Let’s do a reality check.

After our initial story was published in last weeks International Operations Bulletin, which we first monitored thanks to the great work of the Aviation Herald, it was republished in various versions in The Times of London, Flying magazine, AIN Business Aviation News,  Deutsche Welle, and NBC. The picture on the Flight Service Bureau facebook page was viewed 1.1 million times.

First, the picture.

The incident happened. This has already been confirmed by the German BFU, who have responsibility for investigating accidents. The Canadian TSB have assigned an accredited representative to the investigation, and Bombardier have assigned a technical advisor.

So to the cause. The crew reported that 1-2 minutes before the loss of control, at about 0840 UTC, an Airbus A380-800 had passed overhead, slightly to the left. The Aviation Herald’s reporting is of the highest standard, and we trust their source.

Like the Aviation Herald, we also deal in facts. Joining the dots to form the bigger picture doesn’t require Colombo on the job.

  • The incident happened on January 7th, since which time the German BFU have been aware of the case.
  • The story has been out in the aviation community since February 7th, when it was posted that: “A CL604 enroute Male to Europe, upset by opposite direction, 1,000′ above, A380’s wake. Several rolls, large G excursions. Diverted into Muscat.”

 

Since the authority, manufacturer, and operator are all aware of the story, it is reasonable to deduce that were a material part of the widely reported incident not true, then that would have been stated rather quickly.

The ultimate confirmation will come from the Germany BFU, hopefully on this Interim Reports page.

 

The Boeing 757 parallel

On Sunday, we reported the similarity between this A380 story, and the 10 years it took to determine that the Boeing 757 had a wake 1.5 times stronger than other similar aircraft.

Our primary interest here at Flight Service Bureau is keeping the International Flight Operations community safe and informed. Consider this opening line from the New York Times on Dec 23rd, 1993:

Nearly a year after being alerted to the problem, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered air-traffic controllers to warn aircraft flying behind Boeing 757 jets of the potential for dangerous wake turbulence.

In the last year, two crashes that together killed 13 people have been attributed to turbulence caused by Boeing 757's. In the more recent crash, on Dec. 15, five people were killed when their private jet went down in Orange County during a landing approach" 

Wake Turbulence Enroute

The entire topic of wake turbulence is not fully understood by any of us. There is much more to learn. Truly innovative studies were last done back in the 1970’s. Some experienced crews have even questioned whether enroute wake turbulence even exists.  Flight school drills into us as pilots, that wake lives around the airport. “Heavy, clean and slow” are the dangerous ones. But “slow” means about about 150 knots for aircraft like the 380. In the cruise, that goes up to about 250 knots IAS at the higher altitudes. If 150 knots is slow, then 250 knots isn’t really “fast”.

Before the crash of a Delta Tristar at DFW in 1985, we didn’t know much about windshear and microbursts.  Maybe we have to learn the same lesson with enroute wake.

In Flying magazine, Les Abend has a very readable example of enroute wake in this article.


 

And here are some other examples of enroute wake turbulence encounters:

  • Air Canada, FL370, 55 degree roll at FL370 – wake from Boeing 747
  • Virgin Australia, FL350, 45 degree bank – wake from A380
  • American Airlines, FL220, bang – wake from B777
  • Air France, FL360, 25 degree bank – wake from A380
  • United Airlines, FL240, severe turbulence – wake from MD11
  • British Airways, FL320, 30 degree roll – wake from A380
  • Antonov 124, FL320, 15 degree roll, altitude loss – wake from A380
  • Vueling, FL320, sudden 40 degree right bank – wake from A340
  • Japan Airlines, E170 – uncommanded increasing roll to left – wake from A340
  • Armavia, A320 – A/P disconnect, steep banks – wake from A380

Note to Members #24 – Wake Turbulence Enroute

While the industry awaits further guidance from the authorities, Flight Service Bureau has made public its Note to Members #24 (normally restricted to OpsGroup circulation). Revised 22MAR2017.

Key points from our Note:

  • We might be wrong! Like we said above, there is much still to learn about enroute wake. Read the note, but make up your own mind.
  • Consider the wind. The danger point is roughly 15-20nm after the crossing point, as this is when the wake will have drifted down 1000 feet. In stronger winds, the wake may have drifted well away from the centreline. A turn away may not be necessary.
  • SLOP where possible. It may not prevent all situations, especially crossing traffic, but if you’re 2nm right of track you’re a lot less likely to be directly underneath another aircraft.
  • Read the note for the full guidance, and tell us if you have any further thoughts.

 

 

Passenger cabin device ban – what it means for non-scheduled flights

Just the facts:

– The US has banned devices larger than a smartphone in the passenger cabin from 10 departure airports:

  • HECA/Cairo International Airport (CAI),
  • OJAI/Amman – Queen Alia International Airport (AMM)
  • LTBA/Istanbul – Ataturk International Airport (IST),
  • OEJD/Jeddah – King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED)
  • OERK/Riyadh – King Khalid International Airport (RUH)
  • OKBK/Kuwait International Airport (KWI)
  • GMMN/Casablanca – Mohammed V Airport (CMN),
  • OTBD/Doha – Hamad International Airport (DOH)
  • OMDB/Dubai International Airport (DXB)
  • OMAA/Abu Dhabi (AUH)

– The TSA has published a Q&A

– The United Kingdom followed with a similar ban, specific to airlines. Read the BBC article.

– The nine airlines affected by the U.S. ban were notified of the procedures by the Transportation Security Administration at 0300 ET Tuesday and must comply within 96 hours, ie by 0300 Saturday morning.

– Intelligence showed credible evidence of a development of a bomb hidden in portable electronics.

– Two additional American officials, speaking anonymously, said the explosives were designed to be hidden in laptop batteries.

For non-airline/non-scheduled operators

  • Private flights: no impact
  • Charter flights (by Airline): unless operated from the points of departure listed, by the airlines notified, charter flights are not impacted.
  • Charter flights  (Business Aviation): not impacted. Closed-charter flights where passengers are known to each other are a much lower risk, and a small aircraft with 10 people on board falls outside the primary target threat area.
  • Ferry flights: no impact

 

We’re from the FSB, and we’re here to help you (with some First Aid)

We’re from the FSB, and we’re here to help you.

Comforting, right? We hope so! Our middle name is Service (did you spot that?), and what motivates us most is helping you. So let us. We have a team of super-smart International Flight Operations Specialists (except for Dave, who likes to hold Alligators).

We’ll give you the smartest person from FSB, and they’re all yours.

These are the same folks that manage delivery flights for American Airlines, move helicopters through Antarctica, and figure out routings for every new DHC-6 delivery. They also publish the weekly International Ops Bulletin (Take a look at one here). They monitor the worlds airspace for dangers (See safeairspace.net). They answer thousands of Ops questions a year from Pilots, Dispatchers, and Controllers in the amazing OpsGroup.

It’s an extra pair of hands in your ops department whenever you need it.

What might we help you with?

That’s entirely up to you. Here are some things we’re good at:

  • Figuring out the best routes for ad-hoc flights
  • Taking a look at your trip plans and telling you what you missed
  • Advising on airspace entry requirements
  • Telling you what places to avoid because they are dangerous or a rip-off
  • Running test flight plans for new aircraft
  • Answering questions about International Ops in depth
  • Talking to ATC, CAA’s, ICAO, or Government Agencies on your behalf
  • Organise weird permits
  • Clear up confusion over regulations
  • Tell you why to use slack instead of email.
  • Get stuff done where it’s difficult because of procedure or language. 
  • We can speak Spanish in Nicaragua or Dutch in Suriname. Russian in Russia. German. French. Whatever it takes.
  • Help you plan routes around unsafe airspace.
  • Finally get that Flight Plan accepted by the Eurocontrol computer.
  • Cross check your ambitious Pacific crossing plans
  • Dig into the extensive network of FSB contacts
  • Resolve those unpaid Nav Fees for you
  • Get info on that out-of-the-way airport you’re thinking about going to
  • Help with Aircraft Importation

But, ultimately, you decide what you want us to do. We’ll do research for you. Cast a second set of eyes on your plans. Do the filing. Pick up your laundry. Whatever.

If you like, ask us first before you buy our time. But we can do almost anything you ask. Except for an Australian TSP. You’re on your own with that. We love not doing TSP’s.

Now for a radical idea:

Here’s the normal way:

  1. Find a consultant. Turns out to be the wrong one.
  2. Find another consultant. Tell them what you want done.
  3. Rephrase what you want done, so that they understand.
  4. Get your wishes converted into complex-speak. (Keywords: Deliverables, Project Outline, Value Proposition, Customer Focus, Scope, Deadline)
  5. Navigate through the jargon overload.
  6. Get a big contract to send off to legal. Remind legal. Remind legal again.
  7. Widen eyes at the asking price. Negotiate. Settle for reducing the fee from ridiculous to extortionate.
  8. Some months and Hows it all going?’s later, get started. Maybe.
  9. More likely – return to Step 1 and continue from there.

If you want to take that route, get started with Google Search: Aviation Consultants. See you in a few months.

 

Here’s our way:

  1. The price is $200 per hour

  2. You tell us what to do

  3. We do it.

Radical!

How, when, what if

Pick your plan. 5 hours or 10 hours. Place the order above. We’ll email you to say hi. You tell us what needs to be done. We’ll pick the best person and we’ll get started. When? Probably today. Maybe tomorrow. After the time is up, you can buy some more, if you need more work done.

And, if you’re not happy with our work, or we can’t help, we’ll send you a full refund, right away.

Welcome to Flight Service Bureau! Questions? firstaid@flightservice.org

Enroute A380 wake flips Challenger 604 upside down

 

New Guidance to Crews and Controllers issued March 19th, 2017

We normally don’t report on individual aircraft incidents here, because the causal factors are related to a very narrow set of unique circumstances.

This instance is different, and should be of concern to all operators.

A Challenger 604 at FL340 operating from Male-Abu Dhabi passed an A380 opposite direction at FL350, one thousand feet above, about 630nm southeast of Muscat, Oman, over the Arabian Sea.

A short time later (1-2 minutes) the aircraft encountered wake turbulence sending the aircraft into an uncontrolled roll, turning the aircraft around at least 3 times (possibly even 5 times), both engines flamed out, the aircraft lost about 10,000 feet until the crew was able to recover the aircraft, restart the engines and divert to Muscat. The aircraft received damage beyond repair due to the G-forces, and was written off.

An official report is to be published by the German BFU. In the interim, the complete set of circumstances can be read at Aviation Herald.

The current synopsis is copied here:

An Emirates Airbus A380-800, most likely registration A6-EUL performing flight EK-412 from Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to Sydney,NS (Australia), was enroute at FL350 about 630nm southeast of Muscat (Oman) and about 820nm northwest of Male (Maldives) at about 08:40Z when a business jet passed underneath in opposite direction. The A380 continued the flight to Sydney without any apparent incident and landed safely.

The business jet, a MHS Aviation (Munich) Canadair Challenger 604 registration D-AMSC performing flight MHV-604 from Male (Maldives) to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) with 9 people on board, was enroute over the Arabian Sea when an Airbus A380-800 was observed by the crew passing 1000 feet above. After passing underneath the A380 at about 08:40Z the crew lost control of the aircraft as result of wake turbulence from the A380 and was able to regain control of the aircraft only after losing about 10,000 feet. The airframe experienced very high G-Loads during the upset, a number of occupants received injuries during the upset. After the crew managed to stabilize the aircraft the crew decided to divert to Muscat (Oman), entered Omani Airspace at 14:10L (10:10Z) declaring emergency and reporting injuries on board and continued for a landing in Muscat at 15:14L (11:14Z) without further incident. A number of occupants were taken to a hospital, one occupant was reported with serious injuries. The aircraft received damage beyond repair and was written off.

Oman’s Civil Aviation Authority had told Omani media on Jan 8th 2017, that a private German registered aircraft had performed an emergency landing in Muscat on Jan 7th 2017 declaring emergency at 14:10L (10:10Z) and landing in Muscat at 15:14L (11:14Z). The crew had declared emergency due to injuries on board and problems with an engine (a number of media subsequently reported the right hand engine had failed, another number of media reported the left hand engine had failed).

According to information The Aviation Herald received on March 4th 2017 the CL-604 passed 1000 feet below an Airbus A380-800 while enroute over the Arabian Sea, when a short time later (1-2 minutes) the aircraft encountered wake turbulence sending the aircraft in uncontrolled roll turning the aircraft around at least 3 times (possibly even 5 times), both engines flamed out, the Ram Air Turbine could not deploy possibly as result of G-forces and structural stress, the aircraft lost about 10,000 feet until the crew was able to recover the aircraft exercising raw muscle force, restart the engines and divert to Muscat.

The Aviation Herald is currently unable to substantiate details of the occurrence, no radar data are available for the business jet, it is therefore unclear when the business jet departed from Male and where the actual “rendezvouz” with the A380 took place. Based on the known time of the occurrence at 08:40Z as well as the time when the CL-604 reached Omani Airspace declaring emergency and landed in Muscat, as well as which A380s were enroute over the Arabian Sea around that time The Aviation Herald believes the most likely A380 was EK-412 and the “rendezvouz” took place 630nm southeast of Muscat, which provides the best match of remaining flying time (2.5 hours) and distance for the CL-604 also considering rather strong northwesterly winds (headwind for the CL-604, tailwind for the A380s).

On Jan 7th 2017 there were also other A380-800s crossing the Arabian Sea from northwest to southeast: a Qantas A380-800, registration VH-OQJ performing flight QF-2 from Dubai to Sydney, was enroute at FL330 about 1000nm southeast of Muscat and about 400nm northwest of Male at 08:40Z. An Emirates A380-800 registration A6-EDO performing flight EK-406 from Dubai to Melbourne,VI (Australia) was enroute at FL350 about 470nm southeast of Muscat at 08:40Z. Another Emirates A380-800 registration A6-EUH performing flight EK-424 from Dubai to Perth,WA (Australia), was enroute at FL350 about 350nm southeast of Muscat at 08:40z.

The Aviation Herald received information that Air Traffic Control all around the globe have recently been instructed to exercise particular care with A380s crossing above other aircraft. The Aviation Herald had already reported a number of Wake Turbulence Encounters involving A380s before:

Incident: Virgin Australia B738 near Bali on Sep 14th 2012, wake turbulence from A380
Incident: Air France A320 and Emirates A388 near Frankfurt on Oct 14th 2011, wake turbulence
Accident: British Airways A320 and Qantas A388 near Braunschweig on Oct 16th 2011, wake turbulence injures 4
Report: Antonov A124, Singapore A388 and Air France B744 near Frankfurt on Feb 10th 2011, wake turbulence by A388 causes TCAS RA
Report: REX SF34 at Sydney on Nov 3rd 2008, wake turbulence injures one
Incident: Armavia A320 near Tiblisi on Jan 11th 2009, turbulence at cruise level thought to be A380 wake

MHS Aviation told The Aviation Herald, that they can not provide any further details due to the ongoing investigation, Germany’s BFU is investigating the occurrence (which confirmed The Aviation Herald’s assumption, that the occurrence was over international waters, Germany as state of registration of the accident aircraft thus being responsible for the investigation).

Authorities in Oman have so far not responded to inquiries by The Aviation Herald.

In response to our inquiry summarizing the known information so far as described above (however, mistakenly assuming the date of the occurrence was Jan 8th 2017 based on the information thus far) Germany’s BFU confirmed that they are leading the investigation. The occurrence happened already on Jan 7th 2017 at 08:40Z. The BFU is unable to provide further details at this time (in particular to which A380 caused the wake turbulence) because these details are subject to investigation. By Mar 8th 2017 no safety recommendations have yet been issued by the BFU. A preliminary report is estimated to be included in the January 2017 bulletin (which according to “tradition” should be released by mid of March 2017, however, the release of the Jan bulletin can currently not be estimated because so far only the August 2016 bulletin has been released by the BFU, the remaining 2016 bulletins are still being worked on).

 

Big changes to US Border Overflight Rules

There are multiple changes to the US Border Overflight Exemption process effective 2017. Unusually, there is no official notification of the changes from either CBP or DHS, and so you may find that even the Customs Officer on arrival does not know about them.

New US Border Overflight Exemption rules March 2017

The March 2017 changes may be the start of the end for the Border Overflight Exemption, since most requirements from the CBP perspective are transferred to eAPIS: notably, the fact that individual aircraft are no longer listed on the Approval Letter.

We were first alerted to the changes by an OpsGroup member, and have spoken with a lot of different DHS and CBP officials. From these conversations, we’ve put together our summary of the situation below.

Noteworthy is that at many Airports, the front line CBP officers were not aware of the new rules. CBP have said: “This is new not only to you but to most of the Officers in the field. Your pilots need to know what it says because they will be getting questions when they land.”

What is a Border Overflight Exemption?

  • If you operate a flight to the US from south of the 30th parallel, you must land at the first airport you come to.
  • To avoid this, you can apply to CBP for a Border Overflight Exemption (BOE)
  • With that in hand, you can fly to any airport with customs.
  • So, on to the changes:

Effective March 1st, 2017 :

  • A full list of the changes to the process is in Notes to Members #23 in your OPSGROUP dashboard.
  • We recommend you carry this in the aircraft as well, for any CBP official not aware of the new rules.

 

 

 


You can request membership of OPSGROUP to receive the full version delivered every Wednesday, along with all OPSGROUP member benefits: Members Questions, Group Discussions, Slack, free maps and charts (normally $25),  Full access to aireport for group reviews of handlers and airports, regular alerts for critical international ops info,  complimentary Airports Database (normally $375), Full access to safeairspace.net including updated risk alerts,  and guidance and help when you want it on any International Operations topic (that last one is really useful!). Read 125 different member reviews.

 

 

Week-long ATC Strike announced: France

This is different to last years Summer of Strikes – where we had 12  French ATC strikes, but almost all were for 48 periods. This new strike is posted for a Monday-Friday, starting at 6am on Monday 6th March and running through to Friday evening, taking out the LFRR/Brest and LFBB/Bordeaux FIR’s.

Brest and Bordeaux FIR’s cover the west of France, meaning this will squeeze the offloaded traffic into Paris, Reims, and Marseilles FIR’s. As usual, our advice is to avoid overflying France if possible. We look forward to the day we can announce French Strikes are over (like the joy that Iceland brought us) but for now … no end in sight.

So, if you want some different options for getting around the Bordeaux FIR:

  • For north-south flights The Tango Routes – via Shanwick
  • For east-west flights try to file further north, into Belgian/Eurocontrol/German airspace, or come south into Barcelona/Marseilles
  • Read the Eurocontrol NOP for any relief routes accepted by other ACC’s
  • And, here’s a map :

Reroutes via Tunisia, Algeria

Tunisia and Algeria regularly open up their airspace to reroutes during French ATC action – and will likely do so again for this strike.

  • Tunisia (DTTC FIR): Overflight permit is required (AFTN direct DTTVYAYX)
  • Algeria (DAAA FIR): Overflight permit not required during this strike but copy FPL to DAAAZQZX and DTTCZQZX

Reroutes via Shanwick Airspace

Read our earlier post on this: http://flightservicebureau.org/the-three-sisters-shanwicks-tango-routes/

A teleconference will be held by DSNA (in French) on Wed 1st March at 1400 UTC.

Login details:
Call: +33 1 48 50 50 80
Pin Code: 34835821#

Keep an eye on the Eurocontrol NOP for updated info.

NOTAMS and the E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post

 

We’re hot on NOTAMs at the moment. Our OPSGROUP member Eddie (who’s just rebuilt the famous code 7700.com – take a look) has this great story for us from his early days flying the E-4B.

“The NOTAMS are a mess,” Major Tom Stevens said, “instead of the three pages of specific airports twice a day, we are now getting every single airport in the world big enough to handle a 747. The paperwork is immense.”

“How many pages a day?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” Tom said. “I just toss them on the bunks in the upper rest. But don’t tell Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson that. His edict from on high says we have to read every page of them.”

 

Photo: E-4B from the squadron (Eddie’s Camera)

 

I boarded the airplane and caught up with the flight engineer in the forward galley, just aft of the spiral staircase that led to the cockpit. He handed me the aircraft forms and the crew read file. “Welcome to the new world,” he said.

“What world is that?” I asked.

“Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson’s world of course,” he said. “You got ten pages of his view of the world in the read file and then when you get upstairs, you got some more reading to do.”

The airplane was in good shape and in less than a minute the aircraft belonged to me. The read file was another matter. I took the nearest seat and read for thirty minutes how Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson wanted me to do my job. I scribbled dutifully into my notebook and quickly discovered there were three categories of Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson edicts. A lot of it made sense and pretty much put into writing techniques we had been using for years. A good portion of it was silly but harmless. The third category, however, was pure idiocy. We were required from this day forward to hand-fly the airplane from the takeoff to cruise altitude in an attempt to keep our stick and rudder skills sharp. Approach callouts were forbidden so that the pilot flying the jet could better concentrate on keeping the needles centered. I would have to get engaged on these.

But I didn’t know which category to place the strangest bit of news, our newly acquired fetish for having Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMS, transmitted directly to the operational bird. We were accustomed to getting them for the twenty or so airports tasked with supporting us on a regular basis. It was a convenience to have them delivered to the cockpit twice-a-day rather than having to hunt them down at base operations or having to call the nearest FAA flight service station. But now we would have to sort through every airport in the world with a runway able to support a Boeing 747. Was this just another harmless ruling from on high, something General Patton disciples would call “chicken shit,” because they made life harder but really didn’t matter in the end. Or was this in the idiocy category, elevated to the Patonesque level of “bullshit,” something that was as stupid as chicken shit but had a negative operational impact. I drew a large question mark next to the entry, closed my notebook, and made my way up the spiral staircase.

The upper deck of a Boeing 747 started out as an afterthought, just extra space behind the cockpit. Various airliners tried to put a lounge up there but soon figured out revenue-paying seats made more sense. The Air Force version had three beds in a small room, three bunk beds with curtains in a common area, a worktable, and several passenger seats. When the bird was operational, we tended to give up the entire space to our crew chiefs and security guards. For seven days and nights they lived on the airplane and needed a place to unwind, out of view from our passengers. I was used to seeing a bit of a disorderly mess up there and tried to restrain every urge to insist on a little more cleanliness.

On a scale of upper deck clutter, one to ten with five being the average, I was greeted with nothing more than a six. Unusually, there were no mechanics or guards asleep in the bunks. The head crew chief greeted me, as per normal, and I handed him the aircraft forms.

“Good bird?” I asked.

“Good bird,” he answered.

“Any personal squawks?” I asked.

“Just one, sir.” He pointed to the bunks on the right side of upper deck where two of the bunks were filled with reams and reams of silver-backed paper, thousands of pages of paper.

“What?”

“NOTAMS,” he said. “I don’t know what they are for but I wish you pilots wouldn’t leave your junk in our beds, sir.”

I took a handful for the top bunk and carried it forward to the jump seat in the cockpit. After ten trips I filled the jump seat and got one out of three bunks clear. I plopped myself into the pilot’s seat and started to read. “What the hell is Burkina Faso,” I muttered to myself.

“Ever hear of Upper Volta,” I heard as the copilot lowered himself into the right seat.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well same country,” he said, “new name.”

 

 

Soon the rest of the flight crew joined me and we four came down with a system to speed things along. “Most these are days old,” the navigator said, “just look at the date time group on the top left and move on.”

“Good idea,” the engineer said. “But I gotta get me some gloves, this silver shit can’t be good for you.”

It can’t be harmful, I thought, but it certainly was messy. I took a break and went downstairs to learn why our NOTAMS were printed on the strange silver paper. Our 747 had the VIP bedroom in the nose, under the cockpit, and as you went aft there was the galley, a progression of conference rooms, passenger seating, a communications suite, and more seats. I entered the comm suite was immediately handed another stack of silver paper, maybe two hundred pages in all.

“I wish you pilots could get your news on T.V. like the rest of us,” the communications officer said. “That T3500 runs full time these days just for you guys. We hardly use it for our secrets any more.”

He explained that they had all sorts of printers but when the message came from the Department of Defense, as was true with our NOTAMs, they had to be printed on a printer rated at Top Secret or higher. That meant the T3500 on our airplane.

“So why does it have to be on this awful paper,” I asked, rubbing two fingers together and showing off the silver ink rubbed onto each.

“Because that’s what the T3500 uses, major.” As he spoke the printer came to life and I spotted the message header revealing another round of NOTAMS. “And it ain’t cheap either,” he added.

“How much?” I asked.

“Five hundred smackers a box,” he said. “I’m glad I’m not paying for it.”

“Somebody is,” I said while leaving with my new stack of paper, probably three hundred dollars of taxpayer money.

“Executive decision,” I said as I entered the cockpit. “Let’s throw all of the old stuff away and start worrying about the new NOTAMS as we get them.”

“Good idea,” the engineer said, “but we got a problem. Look at this.” He handed me about ten pages of silver paper, about half with a message header that began TOP SECRET and the other half with the code words that meant their security clearance was even higher.

“Whoa,” I said, “this stuff was in our NOTAMS?”

“Yeah,” the navigator said, “and it’s worse. You can be halfway through a set of NOTAMS and a page of this will be sandwiched between. It’s like the printer is in the middle of a hundred pages of NOTAMS but throws in a secret message as soon as it gets it. The comm team doesn’t bother checking all hundred pages so we get their secrets with our NOTAMS.”

I told the flight crew to go through the rest of the NOTAMS while I took the classified stuff with me off the airplane and straight to Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson’ office, where I found him attacking his own mountain of paperwork.

“Sir,” I said, “can I have a minute?”

“You got sixty seconds, major,” he said, “make them count.”

“We found five code worded messages in our NOTAMS this morning and we aren’t even ten percent into the stack. This has got to stop.”

“No,” he said, “this means you still have ninety percent left and you better get to it. I’ll put out a memorandum that makes sure all pilots do a better job of screening their NOTAMS. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, dismissed.”

“Sir,” I said, “why don’t we just discontinue the NOTAMS? I don’t mind going to base operations every day, it would certainly take less time. And then there’s the cost . . .”

“You got your orders,” he said, cutting me off.

“All I want,” I started to say but stopped as he rose his hand in front of his face.

“All I want,” he said, “is for you to shut up and color.”

“Sir,” I said, “yes, sir.”

With that I left his office, returned to the cockpit, collected ten more code worded messages and gave those to our Whamo passengers. While downstairs I was handed a set of flight orders and a few minutes later we were airborne headed east.

Four days later we came back with about 5,000 sheets of NOTAMS from which we had pulled over 200 pages of classified message traffic. I was walking into the squadron as Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson was walking out, on his way to fly the daily training sortie.

“Lieutenant Colonel Larson,” I said, thinking the full proper address might get a better reception. “Can we discuss the NOTAM situation.”

“Major I’ve been through this with all the other aircraft commanders,” he said. “You are the only one who has a problem with it. Why can’t you just salute smartly and press on?”

I saluted smartly and pressed on into the squadron. The mission planning room was packed with pilots, navigators, and flight engineers working on the next big trip. They all turned to look at me, expectantly.

“What?” I said.

“We thought if anybody could change his mind it would be you,” came from one corner of the room.

“You know somebody is going to jail,” I heard from another corner. “One of us is going to miss a code worded message and then it is off to Leavenworth.”

We all sat, quietly, realizing our fates were sealed. I decided the least I could do was get the mess off the airplane so I found a handcart in the steward’s kitchen and made my way back to the airplane.

As soon as the crew chiefs realized I was purging the upper deck of the dreaded silver paper they volunteered to help and we had the cart loaded up in just two trips up and down the three flights of our 747. The head crew chief volunteered to steady the cart as I pushed it back to the squadron.

“How much do you reckon all this paper cost the U.S. taxpayer,” he asked.

“A lot,” I said, “the commo said it was five hundred for a box.”

Once in the squadron we wheeled our way to the ready room. “Now what?” he asked.

“Let’s see if we can reach the ceiling,” I said.

We piled them in a single stack against the wall to steady it. As the stack grew in height we drew a crowd. When we were done it was taller than me and was pretty impressive.

“What good is that going to do?” I heard. He had a point. In the end I decided to use Post It notes to delineate each $500 of wasted paper and topped it all with a banner revealing that all this was just from five days. In retrospect, I think what really capped it off was adding the subtitle, “Fraud, Waste and Abuse.”

That work done, my two-way radio came to life announcing I was needed at the airplane and a few minutes later I was headed for the west coast. Two days later I was back, the NOTAM stack was gone, there was another letter to the crew force announcing that the daily NOTAMS were no longer being provided and that it was up to us pilots to get them by alternate means, and there was a big red line drawn through my name on the scheduling board.

“Thanks for taking one for the team,” I heard over and over again. But I had to wonder, was it worth the price? Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson did not want to talk to me and he did his best to avoid me. But there was the scheduling board filled with trips without me.

“At least you went out in style,” I heard.

I didn’t want to go out at all, of course. After two weeks the drought was over and I was flying to Europe. We had a double crew on board so while one team flew the other was in the upper rest playing cards, reading, or trading vicious gossip.

“So you are resurrected again,” the navigator said. “You are like a cat.”

“More than a cat,” the engineer said. “I think this makes an even ten lives for the good major.”

“I owe it all to clean living,” I said. “Besides, not even Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson can hold a grudge forever.”

The crew looked at me in silence. Finally the navigator spoke. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson was going to have you thrown out of the squadron when this trip came up,” he said. “Whamo asked for you by name and when they were told you couldn’t do it they blew a gasket. They said you were the only aircraft commander they would fly to Europe with.”

“Ah, so,” I said. It made perfect sense, I thought, they would want a pilot who got things done reliably and that would obviously be me. The last few Europe trips got botched up and Whamo was pretty upset. In retrospect, I think the smug grin on my face let the wild dogs know it was time to attack.

“I guess all that suck up time pays off,” the navigator said.

“Yeah, he’s just like Eddie Haskel,” the copilot said, everyone nodding.

“What do you mean?” I didn’t like the way this was going.

“No offense,” the navigator said. Of course that always meant offense was intended. “But you spend a fair amount of time downstairs with the pax, you invite them to the cockpit more than any other pilot, you go out of your way to make them happy.”

“Why that is a lovely dress, Mrs. Cleaver,” the copilot said.

The look on my face must have portrayed my hurt feelings. “No offense,” they all chimed in.

“The major is also one of only two aircraft commanders who doesn’t get Whamo nasty grams,” the engineer said. “I’d rather be on a crew that makes the pax happy than one that doesn’t. Life is easier that way.”

With the engineer’s two cents worth, my hurt feelings went away and pretty soon everyone forgot about the holy crusade against NOTAMS. Everyone, that is, except Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson.

A year later the base was looking for volunteers to go to Air Command and Staff College but didn’t want to nominate anyone who wouldn’t make the Air Force selection process. It was a problem for our base. Everyone on base who wanted to go wouldn’t be chosen by the Air Force; anyone who could make the Air Force cut didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go and did not submit the required application.

“Sign here,” Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson said, handing me the application. “I had it filled out and I made a few phone calls. They say you are a shoe-in.”

“I don’t want to go, sir.”

“You need to go,” Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson said. “I told you to sign.”

“No, sir.”

I pushed the incident out of my thoughts until six months later I was selected. I rushed over to the personnel office to see the application was signed but not by me. The handwriting looked exactly like that of one Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson.

I thought about making a mess of the incident but realized that would ruin two careers instead of just one. A few months later I was in Air Command and Staff College writing an underground newspaper called “The Penguin Gazette, a newspaper for flightless birds.” The Gazette’s editor needed a pseudonym and Eddie was as good a name as any. So began the literary adventures of one Eddie Haskel.

Oh yes, the rule. The holy crusade against NOTAMS taught me that not every battle is worth fighting, sometimes you need to take a few losses along the way. I accepted orders to Air Command and Staff College as my first application of the rule. As it turns out ACSC was a great learning experience for me, got me promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and eventually led to command of my very own flying squadron. There I vowed to face every difficult situation wondering what Lieutenant Colonel Rodney G. Larson would do, and then do the opposite.

 

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