Ask and You Shall Receive

When you find yourself in a bind, give ATC a call.

Mark Brouwer

Last week, P-51-pilot Chuck Gardner had trouble getting his landing gear down in preparation for landing at the Mobile Downtown Airport. After attempting the recommended emergency gear operations procedures, Gardner asked for help. And did he ever receive! No one other than aviation legend Bob Hoover advised Gardner to perform some high G maneuvers to help dislodge the gear. What could have turned into a gear up accident ended as a safe landing with no damage to the valuable airplane or its passengers. This success story should serve as a reminder to all pilots that help is available when things go wrong in the air.

You may never experience gear problems in a P-51, but there are many unforeseen events that could present themselves such as deteriorating weather conditions, navigation problems or some type of system malfunction. While you should always do your homework prior to taking off to avoid these issues, there are times when unexpected things happen and a helpful air traffic controller can help you get out of the situation. But to receive help you have to ask for it. If you think this action makes you less of a pilot, it’s time to change your attitude. Asking for help when you find yourself in trouble is simply the right thing to do.

Perhaps you obtained a thorough preflight weather briefing, but the forecasts were inaccurate. If you find yourself in unexpected weather conditions and can’t get to the nearest airport by your own navigation means, a helpful controller may be able to vector you around the weather system or direct you to an airport that you can reach while staying in VFR conditions.

If you’re lost and are in range of an ATC facility, ask the controller to help you. If you don’t already have a discreet transponder code, the controller can assign you one and will quickly be able to tell you where you are and give you vectors to where you want to go.

With system malfunctions, it may be a little bit more difficult to receive help from ATC. But it is possible that the controller can connect you with someone who can give you advice on how to handle the situation at hand. At a minimum, the controller will be able to guide you to the nearest airport.

Generally, it’s best to always be in contact with ATC for traffic advisories and immediate access to help. If you’re not communicating with anyone, most GPS systems can quickly provide frequencies for the nearest flight service station and ARTCC facility. And if you find yourself in dire need to communicate with someone and don’t have quick access to a frequency that will get you in touch with a controller, dial up 121.5. You should be familiar with this frequency as an emergency frequency. Don’t abuse it, but if you find yourself in a bind, by all means use it.

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