You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought, looking at the frequency list for Double Eagle II. I have to keep track of five different radio frequencies?
I opened the airport information box in my iPad’s “app,” and being careful to keep my fingers just above the touch-sensitive screen, I counted. One… Two… Three… Four… Five!
First, at 119.025, there’s the AWOS-3PT, an automated broadcast of general airport info that includes things like the recent winds, the active runway, current altimeter setting, closed taxiways, and in the case of Double Eagle, a warning about wildlife in the area—a common issue here in New Mexico. In fact, as I was gassing up Tessie at our home base a week ago, a half dozen deer stampeded by me on the apron, crossed taxiway Alpha, pranced across runway 01-19, and leapt elegantly over the high-security TSA fence designed to keep terrorists out of my backwater airport. Then, right after hangaring the Plane Tales Plane, I nearly ran over two wild turkeys as I left the airport.
Sorry, my mind wandered off into the wild for a moment.
Anyway, these automated broadcasts, sometimes found on frequencies called ATIS (for Automatic Terminal Information Service), are updated frequently throughout the day. Each update is given a phonetic alphabet call sign that you’re required to use when you first contact the controllers. In order to sound professional, you say something like: “Double Eagle, Ercoupe three-niner-seven-six-hotel, 10 miles northeast for landing with information Charlie.”
Of course, it never fails that the tower updates the info right as you are changing frequencies. Then the controller can then caustically reply, “Ercoupe seven-six hotel, the current information is Delta.” This is why I hate controlled airports.
But back to the rest of that list:
After the AWOS/ATIS there’s a clearance-delivery frequency at 124.8 MHz.
Next, at 120.15, is the tower.
Then 121.625 is ground control.
Departure is at 127.4.
Uh…. Wait a second. There’s a departure frequency, but not an approach frequency? So who do I call to ask permission to enter their airspace? The clearance-delivery folks or the tower? My palms were getting sweaty as I anticipated making a fool of myself, yet again, with sarcastic air-traffic controllers.
Naturally, before we left on our cross country trip, I wrote all these radio frequencies down in large block letters on a sheet of paper. Then I secured the sheet of paper to my blue jeans with two pieces of duct tape. (I really should invest in a good kneeboard.) In most planes, you could just look up the frequencies on your iPad, flight chart, or Airport Facility Directory as you needed them, but of course Tessie isn’t like most planes. You can’t take your hand off her yoke for one second or she’ll enter a climb or start to dive. If you take your hands off her for a dozen seconds to look up a frequency, by the time you’re done, you’ll find the horizon wasn’t where you left it.
Adding to my stress over what seemed like an excessive number of radio frequencies was the fact that this was the first time that Rio and I were visiting the “Big” city—Albuquerque—from the air. Yeah, I know, at just over half a million people, Albuquerque isn’t all that large by national standards, but consider that a quarter of our state’s population lives there. And from an airspace perspective, it’s a much bigger deal than what we’re used to, where we’re the only airplane based at our home field.
Of course, to make matters even more complicated, in addition to Double Eagle II, there’s a large international airport smack in the middle of the city, with it’s upside-down wedding cake of prohibited Class C airspace dominating the scene. You can get into all kinds of hot water blundering into a large airport’s airspace without permission, not the mention the risk of being mowed down by an arriving jetliner.
But despite all my advanced worry, and the Maalox Moments as I rolled onto my final course that scooted around the edge of Sandia Crest, under the lip of the Class C airspace, and over the suburb city of Rio Rancho, everything went smoothly for once. I listened to the airport info, contacted the tower with information Victor, and was cleared for a straight-in approach to runway 22. I didn’t put my foot in my mouth even once, and even my landing was smooth as silk.
Once off the runway, we correctly changed frequencies, contacted ground control, and got instructions on where to find our destination: The Aspen Avionics Hangar. Aspen, despite making their space available for all kinds of educational gatherings at Double Eagle, doesn’t seem to do a good job on publicizing their location and I was unable to divine their whereabouts on the field in advance. I even searched for the hangar using the Google Earth map, as flight planning requires the use of all available resources.
When informed we were first-time visitors, the ground control folks were kind enough to tell us which taxiway to take and where to turn. We pulled up to a row of visiting planes and shut down.
Of course the great thing about stretching your wings—and your comfort zone—is that when it’s over you feel rather god-like. (Or at least as professional as a Pan Am Captain back in the day, which is pretty much the same thing.)
Oh yeah! Little Podunk me in my near-antique airplane playing with the big boys! My chest filled with pride and my confidence meter pegged at 110%.
But speaking of wing stretches, what in heaven’s name inspired Rio and I to fly into Albuquerque in the first place? We went to attend the Second Annual Angel Flight Fly-In. And what was that all about, you ask?
Well, that’s a story unto itself.
Next time: Why Angels have wings