Down in the Boondocks

The GCO and National Clearance Delivery              

You find yourself at a God forsaken air strip and you’re thinking that your Mooney’s navigational system has transported you to the planet Tatooine.  Perhaps you can communicate with Flight Service through a nearby VOR or Remote Communications Outlet (RCO). Nope. None of those around! You draw your cell phone and . . . No bars – no signal. Now what?

Perhaps the airport has a GCO or Ground Communications Outlet. But, you’ve never heard of a GCO and have no idea how it works! This is a relatively new technology that allows you to communicate with Flight Service Stations and Air Traffic Control (ATC) facilities for the purpose of filing, opening and closing VFR or IFR flight plans; obtaining weather briefings and IFR clearances. Airports like Petaluma, CA (O69) have have a GCO that uses a 2 to 5 watt VHF radio receiver to “ground link” through a modem to the Approach Controller, Center Controller, or Flight Service Station.

A GCO uses the airport’s listed frequency (either 121.725 or 135.075 ). If you want to talk with ATC, click the mic four times. FSS can be contacted with six “clicks”.

The system will ask you to click the mic twice if it is dialing the correct location. If it’s dialing FSS and you want ATC,  wait five seconds and start again.

When the briefer or controller answers, just communicate your needs.

There is a timer on the modem connection and if no voice is heard for sixty seconds, you’ll hear, “timing out”.  Just key the mike once within three seconds, and that will give you another 30 seconds of air time.

If the system is not responsive, try repositioning your aircraft and locate to a spot with a clearer path to the antennae.

To terminate the call, click the mic three to five times while the frequency is clear. Wait six seconds before trying another call.

Using your Cell Phone

Flight Service

Everyone knows that you can call for a weather briefing or file a flight plan using the Lockheed Flight Service 800 number, 992-7433 (WX-BRIEF). However, few pilots know about the National Clearance Delivery 888 number. If you have already received a weather briefing and have an IFR flight plan on file, you can get an IFR  clearance by calling 766-8267. I have used it and it works great.

IFR pilots should consider program this number into their cell phones.

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Two Choices – Two Results

TVshotOn Sunday, December 2nd, 2012, six couples returned to Indiana after a weekend in Destin, FL (KDTS). Todd Reed, his wife and two other couples departed Destin for Greensburg, IN (I34) in his aircraft.

Then, Bob Horan and his wife, along with another couple departed  for their three hour flight home in their new, 1993 Piper Malibu Matrix.

Reed found the weather at I34 to be ¼ mile drizzle and fog. He “shot” the RNAV (GPS) Rwy 36 approach (which requires 1 mile visibility). He could not see the runway, so he accomplished a missed approach, diverted to Columbus (KBAK), 18 nm West, and successfully landed. (Columbus has an ILS approach, control tower and longer runways).



RNAV(GPS)36Forty-five minutes later, after Reed had diverted, Horan, facing the same weather situation, tried the RNAV (GPS) Rwy 36  approach at Greensburg. A few minutes later, all four were killed when Horan’s Piper Malibu Matrix PA46-350 crashed in an area 1 ½ miles south of the runway. Flight Aware stopped tracking the Horan’s Malibu at 6:19 What do we know about the crash and are there any red flags? No problem Could be a problem Big Problem  The accident occurred about an hour after sunset, which was at 5:15 pm. Flying at night is always more difficult  The runway lights are pilot activated (by NOTAM).  There is no record that Horan activated the approach lights.  With no AWOS/ASOS at Greensburgh, pilots must obtain the weather from nearby Columbus’ AWOS.  Horan had been flying for 5 years. We assume that he was current for night opeartions.  Horan had passed his initial instrument check ride a year earlier. We assume he was qualified and current to file IFR. Did this inexperience add to the stress of night and IFR? Undoubtedly.  Horan bought his new 1993 PA46-350 just two months before the accident. Did inexperience in a new aircraft add to the stress at night and IFR? You bet!!  The visibility was 1/4 of a mile. The approach minimums for the RNAV (GPS) Runway 36  require one mile of visibility.  It’s a standard 3o descent from the final approach fix (HUMIG) to the threshold. Not a extreme approach descent.

I have been an instrument pilot since 1971. I have 22,000+ hours and about 1,000 hours in actual instrument conditions. Air Force and Airline pilots are forbidden to attempt an approach unless the required visibility conditions are met.  Can Part 91 pilots fly an approach when the reported weather does not meet the approach requirements? Yes. They can do it all day and all night. However, I have found that following what I learned in the professional world has always served me well. The FAA’s Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide encourages all pilots to establish a personal minimum. For instance, if a pilot is rather new to instrument flying, it might be prudent for the pilot to add ½ mile or more to the published approach visibility. The FAA has never and never will suggest that pilots fly approaches when the weather is below the required visibility. The risks are just too great.  In addition, if a pilot is new to an aircraft, personal minimums need to be increased until he or she has a lot more time in the aircraft!  Two pilots. Same way, same day, same conditions. Two choices. Two very different results.