Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Channel 9

Greetings from my small but practical hotel room in Namur, Belgium, which will be my camp for the next couple of weeks. I arrived this morning. but have already had enough noteworthy adventures to provide material for several blog entries. Today, I will write about the flight over, and my newfound fascination with Airline Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers. I will start with a disclaimer that I'm not an expert on either, and it's quite possible that some of the conversations I transcribe below did not actually happen, since for at least part of the time, I was trying to sleep.

I flew United over here, so I was able to eavesdrop on their conversations on Channel 9 (not all United flights do this - it's at the discretion of the Captain). I'm not sure how they understand each other. Do they take listening classes in school? Understanding Accents 101? Some Air Traffic Controllers sound like auctioneers. And some Pilots sound like they're not quite awake. (This can also be vice-versa.) BTW, I love how some Pilots overuse "Uuuhhhh" - even when they're talking to the passengers and crew (as in: Uuuhhhh, flight attendants, uuuhhhh, please prepare for, uuuhhhh, takeoff.)

Air Traffic Controller: (something undecipherable) Boston, United 950, contact Moncton on 202.25. 

Airline Pilot: Uuuhhhh, United 950 contacting Moncton on, uuuhhhh, 202.25. Uuuhhhh, see ya Boston. [Insert radio frequency static sounds here.] Uuuhhhh, United 950, heavy, 330, contacting Moncton. 

Listening to Channel 9 comforts me. I hear the ATC say something like: United 950, bear left six-decimal-fourteen degrees, and reduce speed to 7.5 mach. Suddenly, the plane turns and slows down. Wow! Now I know why! Because someone on the ground told us to! Someone down there is watching us up here and everything is going to be just fine!

The ATCs are monitoring several flights at once, so you often hear similar talk with other Pilots up there. It was like listening to a panel of international voices, some with pretty cool nicknames like "Shamrock" (Aer Lingus) and "Speedbird" (British Airways). There was even a "Virgin" - which I thought was kind of funny. 

Sometimes a plane would be just out of the ATC's radio range, so he or she would ask one of the Pilots to deliver the message, which was also cool to hear: ATC: Moncton to United 950, can you talk to Shamrock up ahead and ask about the chop? The further we flew from the mainland, the quieter it got. After Moncton was Gander. Then I fell asleep and didn't hear anything else until we were flying over the Isle of Man and talking to London. 

I'm so easily entertained. 

My next entry will discuss my adventures driving in Belgium. Notes to self: remember comparison to the roundabout scene in the European Vacation movie. And don't forget the Reverse gear incident. Also a comment or two on the sadness of being on a diet in a country where excellent chocolate is everywhere: they don't call it Belg-yum for nothin'.