Sunday, September 17, 2006

How I, a Deaf Pilot, Turned an Idea into an Adventure - Part IV

(Continued from Part III)

I was smiling because I was struck with the idea of having breakfast at the Jackson County Airport (KJXN), a mere 33 miles away. With mounting excitement, I entered the new airport identifier into the GPS and punched the "Direct To" button. It indicated that I would be there in about 20 minutes in the Piper Archer.

Glancing at the Detroit chart in front of me, I found the airport was encircled by broken blue lines with the number 35 enclosed in brackets. That meant pilots could not enter Jackson County's airspace between the ground up to and including 3500 feet without first establishing radio contact and then obtaining a clearance to land.

"As long as I am at least 1,000 feet or more ABOVE this ceiling when I get there, I'll be fine." I said to myself.

To comply with FAA recommended cruising altitudes, I climbed to 5,500 feet, giving me a nice 2,000 foot buffer above Jackson's airspace. I was going to have to descend almost four thousand feet in a hurry once I got permission to land but I would worry about that later.

The next thing was to get in touch with the controller and give him the surprise of a lifetime.

“Jackson Tower, this a deaf pilot in Piper Archer 455H, 30 miles southwest, will be requesting light gun landing for Runway 14.”

Every tower has a light gun to guide pilots with malfunctioning radios (or no radios at all---they still exist today, believe it or not). A light gun functions like a manually controlled traffic light for airports with towers except that there is one headlight capable of producing red, white or green colors.

I decided to let my first radio call sink in, assuming the controller on duty was still waking up and enjoying his first cup of coffee.

The red light on my radio stack immediately flickered to life. Someone was talking on this frequency. I sure hoped it wasn't the controller responding back to me! If it was, maybe he didn't hear the "deaf pilot" part!

Ten miles later, I had a Freudian slip of the tongue when I checked in again.

“Jackson Tower, repeating that I’m a very hungry deaf pilot er, er, in Piper Archer 455H, now 20 miles southwest, er, er, will request light gun landing, er, er Runway 14.”

My face was probably red as a beet but I pressed on, hoping for the best. I wasn't violating anything. After all, you only live once!

With 15 miles to go, I spotted the large sprawling metropolitan airport up ahead. This time I had my radio act together.

"Jackson Tower, deaf pilot in Piper Archer 455H, 15 miles southwest, will circle above airport at 5,500 to receive light gun signal for Runway 14.”

After two more calls at the ten and five mile waypoints, I was finally on top of them. Putting the airplane in a 20 degree bank to the left, so that the tower was in my line of sight at all times, I began to circle like a hawk, watching and waiting.

As I was making my first round, I didn't see anything come from the tower.

I double checked the frequency - 120.7. It was the right one.

Puzzled, I made contact once again: “Jackson Tower, deaf pilot in Piper Archer 455H, now circling above you for light gun landing, Runway 14.”

On the second trip around the bend, they still hadn't given me what I wanted.

Something weird was going on.

It shouldn't take this long, especially so early in the morning with hardly any other traffic.

Entering the holding pattern a third time, if I did not get permission to land after this one, I decided I would simply go home. No harm would be done - at least I had fun trying.

Upon completing the last circle, I was about to break off and head home when a miracle happened. They finally aimed their light gun right at me with the strongest beam of green light I had ever seen!

Beside myself with joy, my response was rapid-fire, "Jackson Tower, Piper Archer 455H, I see the green light, thank you. Will make downwind entry, left base approach for Runway 14."

Since I was now cleared to land, I immediately began the descend and headed southeast, away from the airport, so that I could have enough room to turn around and come back for landing at the proper altitude.

After descending almost a thousand feet per minute and turning towards the airport, I landed a few minutes later and took the second exit off the runway. The tower gave me a flashing green light almost immediately, giving me permission to taxi across an active runway towards the restaurant (which happened to be next to the tower).

Parking by the restaurant, I climbed out and glanced up. Someone from the tower was looking down at me. Feeling real proud for having made a landing at a towered airport all by myself for the very first time, eagerly gave him two thumbs up.

He responded by curling his finger back and forth as if inviting me upstairs. The reflecting sun off the glass made it hard for me to see his face clearly so I couldn't tell if he was smiling or not.

Suddenly feeling like a child guilty of committing a naughty act, I pointed at myself, "Me??"

The man gestured to the bottom left to indicate where the entrance was.

"Oh my God! Did I do something wrong?"

To be continued.........
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