Plane Reality

One bit of blogging advice is to pick a single topic and focus on that. The idea is to attract and keep those interested in the topic. I tried that with my first blog, a baseball blog, and I have a separate blog for computer programming. (For the record, neither attracted anyone, so maybe it’s me. 😮 )

This blog does have a central topic — “Stuff That Really Interests Me” — but my tastes are pretty eclectic. Math theory, 3D modeling, and basic physics fascinate me, but so does baseball, beer, and Hawaiian volcanoes. (Not to mention the Mandelbrot and science fiction, both very dear to my heart.)

Right now I’m into commercial aviation.

Which has always fascinated me a little — the idea of flying is an ancient dream (literally, sometimes). There is something very exciting about being in an aircraft just as it takes off.

(There’s something even more exciting about jumping out of an aircraft. As skydivers quip: “If riding in an airplane is flying, then riding in a boat is swimming. To experience the element, get out of the vehicle!”)

The love of flying is, for many, best summed up by the famous John Gillespie Magee, Jr. poem, High Flight:

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

A text beloved by many who’ve experienced flight, from skydivers to airplane drivers to astronauts. (Number me among those who find it profoundly affecting.)

And I do think riding in a large airplane doesn’t give the same experience, but if you’ve ridden in a smaller aircraft, like a Cessna for example, then you’ve had a taste of real flying.

For me it’s all about whether you get a forward view during take-off and landing. In commercial aircraft, all you get is a side view. It ain’t the same!


And that’s where my current aviation kick started: with “inside the cockpit” videos — the ultimate in forward views.

Turns out that’s one more thing you can find on YouTube. Quite a few of them, in fact. Lots of people are fascinated by aviation. I’ll share some once I pick a few favorites.

Those videos led to a whole world of aviation videos. I’ve learned a lot about how commercial aircraft work from Captain Joe and Mentour Pilot. They’re just two of many commercial pilots who do informational videos.

And then there is “Kennedy Steve” — a former (now retired) Wall Street guy turned ATC at New York’s JFK airport. Someone has a channel dedicated to ATC conversations, many of them starring Steve, who is hysterical.

§ §

But today I have a pair of real-life events involving student pilots.

Not to worry, no one gets hurt, but these are exactly the sort of occurrences they put in movies. What makes these so compelling is that they are real.

They’re also testaments to the professionalism of those who work in ATC.


The first story involves a 17-year-old student pilot on a solo flight.

During take-off, one of her landing gear falls off…

Maggie does excellently. You can hear the stress in her voice.

But pilots are trained to remain calm, follow procedures, and fly the aircraft. Their mantra is: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. (In that order.)

The channel for this video (and the two below) posts ATC conversations, usually along with radar images (sometimes maps). Most of the videos involve situations of some kind.

Maggie: 1100 ft, 70 kts

To help read the radar tracking images, Maggie’s plane (in green) is labeled with the aircraft number (N2496X) on top and the altitude (in hundreds of feet) and airspeed (in tens of knots) below.

With commercial flights, instead of the aircraft number, it’s the flight number (e.g. DAL234 for Delta Airlines flight 234).

For example, you can listen to ATC trying to talk down the guy in Seattle who stole, flew, and crashed, the Dash-8 in 2018. (Tragic. He was obviously mentally unwell.) You can even listen to the ATC traffic involved with the Kobe Bryant crash.

But those have bad endings.


The second good-ending story involves a student pilot on his first training flight when his instructor passes out.

As it turns out, the student had experience with a different aircraft, so he wasn’t without experience. But it’s still a fascinating little story:

As you see, not all the videos on this channel come with radar images (or even ground maps). Here’s part two:

All’s well that ends well!

As they say, any landing you walk away from is a good landing.


How bad have I got it? Pretty bad. I got an app for my phone that lets me listen to ATC traffic for many of the major airports in the USA and quite a few in other countries.

There is something weirdly soothing about it. Apparently some people use it to fall asleep to. The app even has a sleep timer.

I’ll put a couple clips of Kennedy Steve in the comments, but I’ll warn you: They are worse than potato chips when it comes to having just one. Very addictive.

You may find yourself at 4 AM tomorrow morning saying, “Just one more,… just one more…”

Stay in high flight, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

6 responses to “Plane Reality

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Here’s another example of how unflappable both ATC and pilots are:

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I determined a long time ago that I wasn’t disciplined enough to stick with one topic. My blog has always been first and foremost about the mind, but from the beginning it’s had digressions all over the place.

    Can’t say I’ve ever been bit by the aviation bug. Looks like it got you pretty good though. New regular topic?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      You’ve done better than I have in at least having a central theme. I really haven’t had any constraints or guidelines here. (Other than, once I started my programming blog I don’t get into the programming weeds here, although I still do write about it more generally.)

      I suppose I should just be glad that, at my age, I’m still enthralled by learning new stuff.

      Can’t say I’ll be writing that much about it, although I may (as in this post) write about stuff that really catches my eye. The topic of flying is so well covered (officially and unofficially) that I don’t know how much I can add. I do sometimes document my progress with a new topic — most of my posts about 3D and 4D rotation were that way.

      I’ve long had a passing interest in aviation. I always loved flying, and (when life offered more idle hours) have spent time watching planes take off and land. I’ve paid a lot of attention to the pilots when I’ve been in smaller planes, and long ago I even played with MS Flight Simulator.

      In fact, when I played video games at all, I generally played games that involved flying. Never got into the Castle Wolfenstein mode. But F15 Strike Eagle or Descent or others did grab me for a while. From what I’ve been hearing about the new MS Flight Sim, I might give it a try. Seems like you’d want to buy flight controls to do it right. Ultimately, you really should even have rudder pedals for your feet.

      (Landing was always an issue for me. Take-off is easy. It’s judging the glide path that I never could learn. It was also a problem during my short skydiving career. Almost 50 landings under my own power, one in a corn field, and one in a small pond just short of the landing area. OTOH, I never broke either a leg or my back — which happens to people — so I count my blessings.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Someone told me in one of the early discussions on my blog that my central theme amounted to what it means to be human. I liked that summation so much I considered making it a byline on the blog. (Maybe I still will at some point.)

        LOLS! Landing seems like the one thing you don’t want to hear your pilot say is their weak point. But I can see why it might be the most complex part.

        Skydiving is one of those things I’ve never had an urge to do. There have been times where I wouldn’t have minded having the right to brag that I’d done it, but not enough to actually do it. Looking at the abyss from the door of the airplane with an expectation of me jumping seems like one of the most terrifying things I can imagine. (Hanging from the cliff of a mountain is in the same neighborhood.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Landing, as far as I can tell, is the hardest part of flying. Taking off amounts mostly to giving it the gas, keeping it straight down the runway, and pulling back on the yoke once you’re going fast enough. (What they call Vr — the “r” as in “rotate” (pitch) the plane upwards.)

        There are mistakes you can make, obviously, but almost anyone can get a plane in the air with just a bit of training.

        Landing involves the right glide angle, the right airspeed, the right flap settings, and not to mention lining up on the runway. (It’s also more scarier watching the ground approach than it is watching it recede. It’s much more obvious you might hit it.)

        “There have been times where I wouldn’t have minded having the right to brag that I’d done [skydiving],”

        That’s definitely a part of it. The chance to say you’ve done something even big strong macho types are openly scared to do. It is slightly life-changing.

        There’s a joke: Q. How do you know if there is a skydiver at a party you’re attending? A. Don’t worry; they’ll tell you.

        Some of that is the brag, some of it is that it’s so astonishing and amazing you just can’t help but gush over it to anyone who will listen.

        I will say that one of the most memorable moments of the whole thing was the first jump when they opened the aircraft door (at 10,500 feet, IIRC). That’s… a very unique experience, being in a flying aircraft where they open the door. You can just look out and down, and there’s nothing between you and the ground. Soooooo weird.

        “(Hanging from the cliff of a mountain is in the same neighborhood.)”

        I’ve met skydivers who think hang-gliding and mountain-climbing is crazy. Too close to the ground. No time to do anything if something goes wrong.

        (I have to say, I knew only one guy who regularly went hang-gliding, and he had indeed crashed at least once. Ended up in some pine trees. I knew a lot more skydivers, and only one with a related injury, and that was from someone landing on her. She was safely on the ground. The guy coming in for a landing (forward speed about 22 MPH) didn’t yell out as he should have.)

        Talk about crazy brave: I recently watched the movie Free Solo, in which free climber Alex Honnold scaled El Capitan solo without ropes or pitons. That’s insane!

        Amazing accomplishment, though, and one pretty gripping movie. Talk about what a human can accomplish. (So much more interesting than a Marvel movie.)

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