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The NATCA Podcast
20 minutes | 14 days ago
Ep33 Charter Member's Gear-Up Save Highlights Career in Dedicated Service to his Profession, Union
NATCA charter member Brad Burtner retired from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Jan. 3, 2008 after three decades of working traffic at four different facilities. Like many other retirees, Burtner headed to Florida, but he didn’t hang up his headset or put away his Union membership card. Instead, two days later, Burtner started a new chapter as a Federal Contract Tower (FCT) controller at Pompano Beach ATCT (PMP). Four years later, he worked to organize the controllers to choose NATCA to represent them, adding to a growing list of the Union’s FCTs, which currently totals 116. That same year, Burtner started his six years of service on NATCA’s National Organizing Committee. In late 2019, it was something Burtner did on the job that has earned him a new round of respect and admiration. NATCA this year is excited to announce the addition of a new category for FCT saves to join the nine geographic regions in the 16th annual Archie League Medal of Safety Award program. The first FCT winner is Burtner and NATCA will be honoring him and his fellow 2020 award winners on Aug. 11 at the 18th Biennial Convention in Houston. “I still enjoy my job and I like the camaraderie at work,” said Burtner who also serves as both PMP FacRep and Southern Region Alternate Vice President representing FCTs. “Everybody gets along great. It’s fun to work there.”
20 minutes | a month ago
Ep32: Kansas City Controllers Use Experience, Coordination to Guide Piper PA-28 Pilot to Safety
At Kansas City Center (ZKC), air traffic controllers on position have a list available to them of fellow controllers at work who are also pilots. If needed, those controllers can be brought to the area to assist a pilot in distress, including things like reviewing emergency checklists. The pilot of a Piper PA-28, flying in instrument flight rules in February 2020, needed help and the controller on the other end of the microphone happened to be the perfect person for the situation: ZKC NATCA member Sarah Owens. Now in her 20th year at ZKC, Owens has been flying for the last 14 years. She flies jets, has worked for charter companies and flown around the country, and is also a flight instructor. She’s an Air Force veteran, a member of NATCA’s Air Safety Investigations Committee, and has represented NATCA at numerous pilot-controller meetings including at the annual Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture Oshkosh. “She knows the checklists for those aircraft like the back of her hand,” said fellow ZKC controller Jordan Haldeman, who worked with Owens in this flight assist. “As far as a pilot being in distress, Sarah is the person you’d want on the other end. She had that all under control with the pilot in helping him run those checklists.” Owens was working sectors 44/48 in the Trails Area. The pilot was attempting to land at Topeka Regional Airport (FOE) in Kansas but missed the approach after the first instrument landing system (ILS) attempt and was being vectored back around for another ILS. Owens noticed the pilot was descending and issued him a low altitude alert. She instructed him to climb and maintain 3,000 feet. He was at 2,000 feet. Owens worked with the pilot, advising to keep the wings level and climb. Haldeman’s mindset was making sure that everything else was being taken care of as far as coordination with the approach control at Kansas City ATCT (MCI) and with the local towers, and evaluating weather and field conditions at all surrounding airports. Together, Owens and Haldeman guided the pilot to a safe landing at Lawrence Smith Memorial Airport in Harrisonville, Mo., 80 miles east southeast of Topeka. For their efforts, the controllers have earned the Archie League Medal of Safety Award for the Central Region.
22 minutes | a month ago
Ep33: Interview With Maj. Katie Cook, Navy Blue Angels, Part 2
In honor of Women's History Month, NATCA is presenting the second of a four-part conversation between two incredibly inspiring women in the world of aviation. NATCA’s own Jamie Sanders, an air traffic controller at Denver/Centennial ATCT (APA), who is also an experienced pilot, interviewed Major Katie Cook, a third-generation military aviator and the first female pilot in the storied history of the great Blue Angels team of the Navy. In this episode, Cook talks extensively about her military experience including flying in locations around the globe. She was one of the few female aviators that flew in combat. She flew missions in mountainous Afghanistan and was based at Camp Bastion, a U.K.-operated airfield at 3,100 feet. Most of the missions were close air support aboard a C-130 with a Hellfire missile rack. "It was extremely rewarding," she said. "You join the military because you want to serve your country and you become an aviator particularly in the Marine Corps, to support the Marines on the ground. That's what our entire structure of the Marine Corps is about." Cook was the only female pilot on the aircraft. She tells the story of one mission in particular where they came to the support of a group of Marines being fired upon. She could hear on the radio the explosions. They shot two Hellfire missiles to take out the enemy. Six months later, in a chance encounter in Europe, she met one of the Marines she helped save. "He said, 'you guys saved our life,'" Cook said. "I have a face with the name and so it's super rewarding." Cook described what that mission was like. "We're taught to compartmentalize. At that moment, I was like, 'I can't fail. These people need the support,'" Cook said. "But in the back of your head, you're like, 'I'm about to shoot a missile at people; at a live person who's probably not going to be alive after I do this.' That's kind of a heavy burden. They were shooting at Americans, so it was completely justified but it's still a heavy burden that a lot of people don't ever have to deal with." She also talks in this episode about applying and then being selected to join the Blue Angels on its Fat Albert aircraft, as well as her interactions with women of all ages and especially young girls that look up to her as an inspiring role model.
27 minutes | 2 months ago
Ep31: Wichita Air Traffic Controllers Prevent Wrong Airport Landing
In 1929, the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce dubbed Wichita, Kan., the “Air Capital of the World.” Nearly a century later, with a world-leading total of aircraft manufactured, it could be argued that Wichita’s busy-and-getting-busier airspace above six airports and McConnell Air Force Base makes it a strong candidate to keep that title. That presents clear situational awareness responsibilities and unique challenges for the air traffic controllers at Wichita ATCT (ICT). ICT sits on the western edge of the city. On the eastern side, there are three airports lined up in a row, north to south, including two - Colonel James Jabara Airport (AAO) and Beech Factory Airport (BEC) - that are only three miles from each other with similar runway layouts. McConnell AFB is only six miles south of BEC. ICT member Hunter Rubin grew up loving aviation as the son of retired controller Barry Rubin, who worked at Fairbanks ATCT (FAI), Albuquerque ATCT (ABQ), and Albuquerque Center (ZAB). Hunter said he found the perfect facility for him in ICT where each day brings the steady rhythm of traffic as volume rises and fills each radar scope. “Once you start seeing all the VFR targets tagging up, and traffic picking up here and there, we’re like, ‘OK, here they come,’” said Rubin. He notes that they often open up a second and third radar position because “that east side of Jabara, Beech, and McConnell is just so congested. Everybody watches that area a little more carefully.” Midday on a Wednesday in January in 2020, Rubin saw something and immediately acted to prevent a wrong airport landing. He teamed with fellow ICT controllers Daniel Hittner and James Smart on a terrific flight assist. For their efforts, the three NATCA members have been recognized as the 2020 Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winners from the Central Region. Listen as Rubin discusses this event and what it's like to work the busy airspace above the Wichita area.
18 minutes | 2 months ago
Ep30: Part 1 of 4 - Interview With Maj. Katie Cook, First Female Blue Angels Pilot
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is very honored to introduce the start of a four-part conversation between two incredibly inspiring women in the world of aviation. NATCA’s own Jamie Sanders, an air traffic controller at Denver Centennial Tower (APA), who is also an experienced pilot, recently sat down for a virtual interview of Major Katie Cook, the first female pilot in the storied history of the great Blue Angels team of the United States Navy. Major Cook is a third-generation military aviator. Her paternal grandfather served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Her father had a 26-year long career in the Navy and was an F-18 fighter pilot. Carrying on the family legacy, she joined the Marine Corps after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2008. She made the choice to go into the Marine Corps, after spending time training with Marines in Quantico, Va. During her time in the Marine Corps, she was one of the few female pilots to fly combat missions during her deployment to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. After that, she spent time on assignment in Uganda, and had already accrued over 400 combat flight hours. It was during her time in Africa that she was approached by a Blue Angel pilot, who encouraged her to apply for the coveted flight demonstration team. Following an extensive interview process, Maj. Cook was officially the first female Blue Angel, and became the pilot of the Lockheed C–130 Hercules named “Fat Albert.” Jamie grew up in an aviation family as well. Her father was an American Airlines pilot and her great aunt, Emily Howell Warner, was the first female commercial airline pilot. At 15 years old, Jamie began flying lessons out of Denver Centennial and got her private pilot license when she was 16. She had planned on flight instructing. However, the tragic events of 9/11 froze all hiring of flight instructors. She decided to take out a loan and partner with another pilot, flying all over the country to build flight time. After a little over a year, she came back to Colorado to finish her degree in Aviation Technology and began flight instructing. Jamie got her first airline job flying for Great Lakes Aviation, out of Denver International Airport in 2003. In 2009, Jamie was hired with Allegiant Air. In 2011 she was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to start training at the ATC academy in OKC. At the time, her husband had been furloughed from United Airlines for seven years and she was pregnant with her first child. Jamie was ready for a career change, and ATC was the perfect fit. She worked at Pueblo ATCT (PUB), then Colorado Springs ATCT (COS) before transferring in 2019 to APA. In this first episode of the four-part series, Jamie and Major Cook discuss their careers and their background.
50 minutes | 2 months ago
Ep29 "I Just Almost Hit Another Mountain;" Seattle Center (ZSE) Controllers Save Idaho Pilot
As Seattle Center (ZSE) member Josh Fuller’s shift was ending on the Saturday afternoon before Thanksgiving in 2019, a supervisor from Area C walked through Area B urgently looking for anyone with pilot experience. A VFR-rated Cessna 182 Skylane pilot in far northern Idaho, Tim Bendickson, had departed Boundary County Airport (65S) on what was supposed to be a 40-minute flight to the southwest back to his home airport in Priest River, Idaho (1S6). Instead, he immediately encountered fog and severe icing conditions, typical for that time of year, ending up in Canadian airspace. Bendickson, knowing he could not find his own way back to the airport, called ZSE. “I just almost hit another mountain, I don’t know where I am,” he said. Fuller grabbed his headset, went to Area C, and told the supervisor he had limited pilot experience but not in a Cessna 182. He plugged in. “My stomach was in my throat,” he said, “because I did not have any idea what we were getting into. My first thoughts were, let’s just get him on a heading and keep his wings level.” Fuller spent the next two hours working with fellow ZSE members Byron Andrews, Brian Hach, Ryan Jimenez, and Michael Sellman. It was an unforgettable team effort that saved the life of Bendickson, who was facing an array of challenges including disorientation that often leads to disaster for pilots. For their efforts, the five air traffic controllers have been selected as the 2020 NATCA Archie League Medal of Safety Award winners for the Northwest Mountain Region.
24 minutes | 3 months ago
Ep28: From The Pilot's Perspective - How Calm Controllers Having Her Back Meant Everything
In our last episode (Episode 27) of The NATCA Podcast, we brought you the story of Fort Worth Center (ZFW) air traffic controllers and NATCA members Brian Cox, Larry Bell, and Colin McKinnon. The trio worked together as a team to help pilot and flight instructor Anise Shapiro and her student, Jouni Uusitalo when the engine failed on his Piper PA-46 Malibu halfway into a 75-minute flight over West Texas. For their efforts, the controllers are being honored this year with the NATCA Archie League Medal of Safety Award for the Southwest Region. Now, we bring you part two of this event - a conversation with Shapiro. She describes what the experience was like and how she and Uusitalo and the six dogs they were transporting all escaped unharmed after landing safely in a wheat field. Shapiro has been flying since 1997. This was her first engine failure, something she trains for regularly with her students. Shapiro said she could feel the ZFW team behind her, having her back. “Knowing that you’re not alone actually is more helpful as a pilot than anything,” she said. “They stayed super calm. The calmer each transmission was, the calmer I felt.”
34 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep27: Two Souls, Six Dogs, and an Open Wheat Field of Safety
Halfway into a nearly 75-minute flight last spring to Graham Municipal Airport (RPH), 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, pilot and flight instructor Anise Shapiro, in a Piper PA-46 Malibu, lost the engine for the first time in her 23 years of flying. At 14,500 feet and needing quick options, she declared an emergency to Fort Worth Center (ZFW) NATCA member Brian Cox. Onboard with Shapiro were her student pilot, Jouni Uusitalo, and six dogs they were transporting. With the vast West Texas terrain beneath her and losing altitude steadily in a strong headwind, Cox and fellow ZFW members Larry Bell and Colin McKinnon worked quickly as a team to assist her. Unable to make either Plan B, Harrison Field of Knox City Airport (F75), or Plan C, Texas State Highway 114, Shapiro and Uusitalo spotted a final option: An open wheat field with no trees or cattle. For their efforts, Cox, Bell, and McKinnon have been named the recipients of the NATCA Southwest Region Archie League Medal of Safety Award.
21 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep26 Boston TRACON Controller Had "The Voice That Made Me Believe We Would Survive"
Late on a mid-summer evening, over the ocean and in the fog, pilot Lihan Bao was flying a short final ILS approach to Runway 24 at Martha’s Vineyard (MVY), her second time flying into that airport. The tower had just closed for the night. Shortly after her VOR receiver began to swing left to right, Bao saw a group of bright lights which distracted her. She turned left a bit to try to go back to the approach course but it didn’t work, and a few seconds later she and her passenger heard a noise. She had hit something (later determined to be a tree). Lihan was at 400 feet and started to lose directional control of the Cessna 172 (N677DM). She added full power right away and tried to bring the wings level. Then, she radioed Boston TRACON (A90) and declared an emergency. On the other end of the mic was someone perfectly qualified to assist her, eight-year veteran controller Dave Chesley, who is also an experienced pilot and flies his own home-built aircraft, a single-engine Murphy Moose, with his wife, Jody, who is also a controller (Boston ATCT, BOS) and pilot. Chesley maintained a calm, reassuring demeanor throughout the entire incident. He guided Lihan with clear instructions as she diverted to Otis Air National Guard Base (FMH), which had a long runway, a 24-hour facility, and was reporting VFR conditions. “He gave me headings and altitudes with the voice that made me believe we would survive,” she said. For his efforts, Chesley has been named the 2020 Archie League Medal of Safety Award winner for the New England Region.
37 minutes | 5 months ago
Ep25 Losing Altitude, Options, Grumman Pilot Gets Help From San Diego Controllers
Duffy Fainer holds three skydiving world records and has encountered eight parachute malfunctions and one emergency ocean landing in 46 years of jumps. His first in-flight emergency in 15 years of flying airplanes, late in the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, 2020, gave him a different kind of feeling. But he credits the calm, professional, expert handling provided by San Diego ATCT (SAN) NATCA members Michelle “Shelly” Bruner and Jamie Macomber with helping him to a safe, albeit nerve-rattling, landing. Duffy’s home airport is Montgomery-Gibbs Executive (MYF, formerly known as Montgomery Field). He departed on his usual route of flight in his Grumman American AA-5A Cheetah, N365PS, heading west of the Miramar Naval Air Station airspace toward the Pacific Ocean. After Fainer crossed over Crystal Pier, located on the ocean just north of Mission Bay, he realized the throttle was not working properly. It was stuck at the 2,000 rpm point, which was enough to enable him to sustain level flight but it wasn’t going to let him climb. Fainer was at 800 feet at that point in a coasting climb that then took him to 1,200 feet but no further. “I just felt dread because I knew most likely this was not going to resolve itself,” Fainer said. “I knew that I wasn’t in a good position to try and get back to Montgomery Field, which was six miles away. I was stuck at an altitude that I knew I would have had rising terrain on my way back and that didn’t seem like a good idea flying over houses and suburbs and buildings.” So Fainer called SAN and was immediately soothed by Bruner’s familiar voice. “She said, ‘whatever you need,’” Fainer said, “which gave me a lot of confidence and sense that somebody was there backing me up despite the fact I was in the cockpit all alone with my sad little airplane.” “I knew something was up on his first transmission,” said Bruner, the daughter of a Navy mechanic who spent more than five years in the Army before starting her Federal Aviation Administration career 11 years ago. She’s been at SAN for the last 10 years. She noted that Fainer, a professional announcer and host, has a very familiar voice and callsign. “We’re very familiar with him coming into the airspace but he always calls with all of his requests all at once,” Bruner said. “So this time, when he just called me with his callsign, I’m like, ‘OK, this is going to be different.’ I think instantly the adrenaline started kicking in. I had to figure out what was going to happen, what’s my plan - A, B, and C.”
40 minutes | 6 months ago
Ep24 Indianapolis Center Controllers Guide Pilot With Ice Buildup to Safe Landing
During any normal shift in Area 2 of Indianapolis Center (ZID) on a mid-March Saturday afternoon, assisting the pilot of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk who encountered icing conditions would have required the same knowledge, calm professionalism, detailed checklist of tasks, and supreme focus that experienced ZID NATCA members Brittany Jones and Bob Obma bring to work. But this particular Saturday afternoon shift, on March 21, 2020, was the first in which three areas at ZID were closed after positive COVID-19 tests. With uncertainty swirling as the nation began its descent into the throes of the pandemic, the challenges involved with handling an emergency situation - like this Skyhawk - increased. “Quite possibly the craziest week of my life that I can remember,” said Obma, who had just been recertified three days prior to this shift after being off the boards for multiple years with a medical issue. “You’re walking down the hallway and you pass these areas with yellow police tape marking them off. All the lights are turned on but there’s no controllers. You could still see some random data blocks on the scopes. It just felt really strange.” Traffic levels were still high. The closure of much of ZID’s airspace forced controllers to work on the fly and join together to come up with plans and make them work. There were re-routes around closed airspace, aircraft in Area 2 that are usually not worked in that lower altitude airspace (23,000 feet and below), and other situations that were not planned for. “Everyone was already on high alert,” Obma said. “Their energy was already revved up.” Dennis Tyner was piloting the Skyhawk. He departed Prestonsburg, Ky., headed for Lexington, Ky. He encountered icing conditions and requested a lower altitude from Obma. Unfortunately, because of the mountainous terrain, Obma was only able to get him down to 3,100 feet, which was not enough to get the ice off the aircraft. As an experienced pilot himself, Obma knew what Tyner was experiencing in trying to fly the aircraft. Obma declared an emergency for him before starting work to vector him around higher terrain and setting him up for an approach at an alternate airport in Morehead, Ky. Jones joined Obma as his D-side controller.
16 minutes | 6 months ago
Ep23: Alaskan Air Traffic Controllers Help Guide Cessna Pilot Away From Trouble to Safe Landing
The weather conditions in Alaska are often poor, but they’re highly changeable. This can lead to situations where a pilot can encounter difficulty, especially if they’re not able to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Alaskan Region air traffic controllers are keenly aware of this each time they plug in for a shift. “I’ve seen situations where a pilot gets IMC for 30 seconds, they call up needing help, and they’re out of it in 15 to 20 seconds,” said Anchorage TRACON (A11) member John Newcomb (pictured at left above), a second-generation controller who was a member of the 235th Air National Guard ATC Squadron before starting his Federal Aviation Administration career in 2014. “Other times, like this situation where it’s prolonged, you’re getting PIREPs from other airplanes and ground facilities, or from other pilots who are climbing out, descending in, or in level flight. But it’s not uncommon up here.” On this particular Sunday morning, the VFR-rated pilot of a Cessna 172, N758XS, encountered IMC after departing Soldotna Airport (SXQ), headed to Birchwood Airport (BCV). Worse, the initial transmissions from the aircraft were garbled. Newcomb and his colleague from Anchorage Center (ZAN), Matthew Freidel (pictured at right above), worked with assistance from their respective facility teams to aid the pilot, including vectors and recommended altitudes. In an area as vast as Alaska, controllers have lots of frequencies, but lots of limitations on their frequencies, such as line of sight. Mountains are everywhere.
32 minutes | 7 months ago
Ep22: Pensacola TRACON NATCA Member Works With Coast Guard Pilot to Save a Life
It was like most any other ordinary summer afternoon in Pensacola, with a lot of weather, when Marcus Troyer plugged in for his shift at Pensacola TRACON (P31) shortly after 12:30 p.m. EDT. In the skies to the west, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Brian Hedges was the pilot and aircraft commander on an ordinary training mission in a newly-converted MH65E helicopter. But a short time later, Troyer and Hedges were joined in a search and rescue effort that was anything but ordinary and showcased the essential nature of their respective professions. Thanks to their efforts, the life of the pilot of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, Scott Jeffrey Nee, was saved after he crashed into the sandy bank of the Escambia River in a remote area of Jay, Fla., north of Pensacola near the Alabama border, and was seriously injured. “They are heroes,” said the plane’s owner, Freddie McCall. “They saved a man’s life.”
21 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep21: NATCA Runway Safety/RWSL Representative Bridget Singratanakul (Gee)
Ep21: NATCA Runway Safety/RWSL Representative Bridget Singratanakul (Gee) by NATCA National Office
12 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep20: NATCA Charitable Foundation President Corrie Conrad
NATCA Charitable Foundation (NCF) President Corrie Conrad (Portland, Ore., ATCT, PDX) reflects on the 25th anniversary of NCF. She talks about the great work being done by member volunteers, the efforts put toward meeting the challenge of growing NCF, and the great personal rewards of donating time, money, and energy to the Foundation. "It's a labor of love," she says. "I knew this would make my heart whole."
23 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep19 NATCA Fresno Tower FacRep Jerry O'Gorman Talks About His Heart Surgery
Just a couple of weeks after open heart surgery to implant a new prosthetic valve in place of his failing bicuspid aortic valve, longtime Fresno ATCT (FAT) FacRep Jerry O'Gorman says he is feeling great and already well on the road to recovery, anxious to regain his medical and return to the facility. With the love of his wife, Cara, and three young children, a team of great medical professionals, and the incredible support of his NATCA family, O’Gorman tells NATCA Deputy Director of Public Affairs Doug Church in this episode of The NATCA Podcast that he is truly a very fortunate man.
14 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep18 I'm Here For You
Our NATCA Family has lost 16 members in the last several years to suicide. The latest was Crystal Joy Kendzierski, the FacRep at Tulsa Riverside ATCT (RVS), which has hit our membership, and particularly the Southwest Region, very hard. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all ages. Every day, approximately 123 Americans die by suicide. This is the type of tragedy that the NATCA family has unfortunately experienced before, but we are determined to raise awareness of this issue, and hopeful we can reach those that need help. It’s vital that we are aware of the signs of vulnerability and are there to offer appropriate help to our NATCA brothers and sisters who might be struggling. We need to be there for our fellow members in times of need. “I’m here for you” will be a mantra you will see as part of our efforts. Our latest episode of The NATCA Podcast is devoted to discussing this topic and features two members of the Southwest Region, Nick Daniels (Fort Worth Center FacRep) and Mary Ann Hall (Shreveport ATCT Treasurer).
16 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep17 The NATCA Insider, July 12, 2019
Listen to this week's news, notes, and highlights as reported in the newest issue of The NATCA Insider e-newsletter.
14 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep15 Introducing NATCA's 2019 Archie League Award Winners, with Jim Ullmann
NATCA Director of Safety and Technology Jim Ullmann, who participated in the selection of Archie League Medal of Safety Award winners for the fourth straight year, talks about the 2019 honorees and their great air traffic control work that ensured safety above all. Jim also discusses meeting with his fellow selection panelists and how this awards program - and CFS - have grown over the years.
13 minutes | 2 years ago
Ep16 NATCA Director Of Government Affairs Jose Ceballos
NATCA Director of Government Affairs Jose Ceballos talks with Deputy Director of Public Affairs Doug Church in an episode of The NATCA Podcast devoted to the federal budget and FAA funding issues. Ceballos discusses this week's House vote to pass a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) FY2020 appropriations bill, gives a status update on the increasing Congressional support for both H.R. 1108 and S. 762, and analyzes the looming threats posed by the end of fiscal year appropriations on Sept. 30, sequestration, and the debt ceiling issue.
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