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Niner Delta Whiskey

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment
Doug White and the King Air 200

Doug White and the King Air 200

The last three Septembers, we have flown from Boston to Nantucket on Cape Air’s Cessna 402s. They are twin propeller aircraft with a single pilot and a single cabin. The passengers are distributed according to weight, with one passenger getting to sit next to the pilot in the co-pilot position. Gail did that three falls ago. I have flown in the seat just behind the co-pilot twice, affording an excellent view of the control panel and all the actions the pilot takes. It’s kind of fun, but I have yet to make the flight without thinking about what would happen if the pilot had some kind of attack in mid-flight and could no longer fly the plane.

Well, as you may have read, something just like this happened on Sunday, but in a private airplane. Doug White and his family were returning from Marco Island, Florida to Monroe Louisiana aboard a King Air 200 after attending his brother’s funeral. Like the Cessna, the King Air 200 has two engines. White was in the co-pilot’s seat, with the family behind, when the pilot suddenly died a few minutes after takeoff. Fortunately, White had some flight experience, all in a single-engine Cessna, mostly years earlier, but he had resumed flying in January. You can read more about what happened next at the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association website. Better yet, when you have some free time, listen to the audio recording of White’s conversation with the air traffic controller. (You’ll find a link to the audio at the bottom of the webpage linked to above.) White is simply amazing to listen to. I started listening yesterday afternoon and couldn’t stop. While I was at it, I opened a new tab in my browser so I could go to google maps and get a map of the Fort Myers, Florida region, including the airport. This allowed me to follow (or guess at) White’s position as he talks to the controller.

The best reason to fly United Airlines is channel 9 on their audio, on which one can listen to the air traffic control conversations. I love it. And I always root for our pilot. The best parts are when he or she talks or is given a command by the controller. What’s so stunning about White is that he sounds just like the veteran United pilots. Completely in control.

See also yesterday’s blog post by the Atlantic’s James Fallows, which is where I learned about this recording, and a follow-up Fallows post just a few minutes ago. I couldn’t say it better than Fallows in concluding the second post: “If Tom Wolfe were re-writing the intro to The Right Stuff, which so memorably begins with evocation of the slow, confident drawl of airline pilots who can’t be ruffled by anything, he could do worse than to recreate this recording of a man landing an airplane he had never flown before, while returning from his brother’s funeral, with his loved ones aboard.”

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Categories: Flying