Hello dear readers, and welcome back to our weekly aviation blog!
I am going to lighten up the mood a little this week with a slightly amusing story about the use of pyrotechnics as a means of communications.
So, it was a bright summer day, warm and dry. Actually, it had been so dry we were even almost starting a period of drought, and, quite frankly, my colleague and I were happy to be in an air-conditioned room on that Saturday afternoon.
Traffic was not too intense, but was slowly building up, and my colleague was busy working with a few VFR flights and I was taking a short pause when we saw the 7000 approaching the southern edge of our CTR. On a Saturday, with good weather, it was not unusual, especially with the ultralight airfields around. But that 7000 was about to wreak havoc into our little, well-organized system.
Of course, airspace infringements are never pleasant, and yet they happen every so often, but this one was about to take quite the unexpected turn…
After spotting the infringement on her screen, my colleague called me to take a look, and we sat there, looking at each other, as usual contemplating how little we could do to influence the course of events, and we quickly realized that two things could be done:
- Give a go around to the cargo 747 on final to avoid a loss of separation, as the intruder was heading straight towards the runway in use
- Try and signal them that they were in controlled airspace, and close to an airport.
We agreed that I would load a red cartridge in the flare gun, step out onto the terrace, fire it, and come back immediately to help out, so I went out, fired the flare and ran back in.
The good thing that happened is that the pilot of the light aircraft did see the red pyrotechnics and realized where he was. A short radio exchange followed, and we were finally able to get back to normal operations. But something else was happening, without our noticing. The red flare, after doing its job, had fallen back to the ground while still burning. And thanks to the heat, and the fact that the grass had been mowed a few days before, the ground was in fact covered with dried out vegetation, almost hay. Now, one of the properties of hay is that it is very flammable, isn’t it?
Well, when we were done sorting out the traffic situation, we both looked out the window to see a thick drape of smoke next to the tower.
The fire was quite impressive. Next to the airport is a motorway, some 5-10 meters above ground level, with a rather steep embankment leading up to the roadbed. And yes, because of the hot and dry weather, the fire was spreading up to the motorway quite extensively, to a point that it was slowing down road traffic, so we thought we would call the airport fire brigade.
Now, my friends, it was not a proud moment, I have to admit. I called our firefighters, telling them that there was a “bushfire” next to the tower and that their intervention would be necessary. I of course failed to mention the cause of the fire, but thankfully enough, they sent their first response team immediately, then followed pretty much by every single vehicle they owned as the fire was proving very difficult to contain and was still racing in all directions through the dry vegetation.
The more vehicles came, the more my colleague and I were sinking into our chairs, not exactly proud of ourselves, but on the other hand we had a very good justification for the use of pyrotechnics. On the ground, though, the situation was hardly improving, and external backup from the city fire brigade even had to be called in to finally master the situation quite some time later.
Fast forward a few hours, at the end of our shift, our supervisor came in for the night shift, and asked if everything was ok, if the afternoon had been quiet. And I decided to be a little mischievous as I told him, pointing at the charcoaled embankment:” Well, chief, hadn’t it been for the aircraft that crashed and exploded next to the tower, it was relatively uneventful…”
I watched his eyes roll up and his face turn white, barely able to speak out of disbelief: “What?? Why didn’t you call me?? I am your supervisor!!”
By that time, I already couldn’t hold it anymore and both my colleague and I were already erupting in laughter. It took a good while for our supervisor to actually smile about it as well, and he had to sit down and have a cup of water to get over the emotion, but eventually, we parted ways with a friendly handshake and the whole story left us with very good souvenirs.
Have a nice week my friends, stay safe and enjoy the good weather if you can!