Controller dons CFII hat, talks pilot through the clouds

March 23, 2010

When the pilot of a Velocity was stuck on top of an overcast cloud layer, trying to land at Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, and running low on fuel, Potomac Tracon controller and CFII Louis Ridley stepped in to talk the pilot through the clouds to a safe landing at a nearby airport with friendlier terrain. He and 16 other controllers were honored for their remarkable efforts to assist pilots last year during the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s sixth annual Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet on March 22.

Ridley could tell from his radar scope that the Velocity was trying to land at the Shenandoah airport, even though the pilot wasn’t in contact with Potomac Tracon. Ridley tuned in the airport’s unicom and offered assistance to the pilot after hearing his radio transmissions. He learned that the pilot was not instrument capable, that only 45 minutes of fuel remained on board, and what navigation and terrain equipment was in the Velocity. Then, he reassured the pilot that he would help get the aircraft down safely.

“I can sure talk you through an ILS if you’d like, or take you over to Culpeper where the land is flatter and take you in on a localizer approach, whatever you would like to do. I am a CF-Double I (CFII), I have six thousand hours, talked for over twelve hundred. I think I can talk you down if you want to do that,” the transcript of the event reads.

Ridley guided the pilot to nearby Culpeper Regional, declared an emergency for the pilot, assigned him to 7,000 feet, and recommended that he use the aircraft’s autopilot.

“November nine victor alpha. When you get to Culpeper, the airfield will be closed. I’m sure there’ll be some people around. If not, I’m based there with my airplane. I’ll send my wife down to make sure you get into a hangar and get some transportation so you don’t have to worry about any of that,” Ridley offered.

He successfully talked the pilot down through the clouds so that he could make a safe landing.

Also honored were the controllers who helped Doug White land a King Air after the pilot died at the controls. Listen to the event in White’s words in this Real Pilot Story and to the audio transmissions from that day.

This year’s Archie League Awards “honor the very best examples of skill, dedication and professionalism that NATCA members had to offer in 2009 in the pursuit of a safe outcome in emergency situations,” the company announced. The winners were chosen by a panel of aviation experts: AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg, professional pilot Brian Townsend, and NATCA Safety and Technology Director and retired air traffic controller Dale Wright.