Chicago Area 99s Expo Attracts Large Crowd, Despite the Weather

Refresher training offers pilots the chance to ask real questions.

Chicago 99's
The Chicago Area 99’s annual IFR/VFR Expo featured guest speakers on topics like “Air Traffic Control: Am I using the System Correctly?” and “Is your CFII Really Teaching You What You Need to Know?”Rob Mark

The day before the Chicago Area 99's annual IFR/VFR Expo, Madeleine Monaco was worried about the weather, always a coin toss in the Midwest during January. Monaco was the general manager for the 99's event. "If the weather's really good tomorrow, our turn out will probably suffer," she told me. "Most pilots would rather be out flying on a Saturday, than sitting around an educational forum." She said the 99s organized the event decades ago to, "expose more people to aviation around Chicagoland while providing recurrent pilot training at the same time. It also offers people the chance to meet up with old friends and connect with Illinois Division of Aeronautics and FAASTeam officials."

As the sun rose the next morning, visibility was excellent beneath an azure blue sky with only a few wisps of Cirrus visible. Yet on arrival at the expo, it was pretty clear many pilots had ditched their Saturday flying adventures to listen to the nearly dozen speakers refresh them on scintillating topics like, “Air Traffic Control: Am I using the System Correctly?” or “Is your CFII Really Teaching You What You Need to Know?” or in the flying companion section, “What Makes an Airplane Fly, Besides Money?” and “Helping Your Pilot Deal With Emergencies.” By mid-morning, the forum rooms were packed. The 99’s said slightly more than 300 people registered for the event, as well as a dozen local vendors and of course the volunteer speakers.

Two Chicago NATCA air traffic controllers, Eddie Trujillo from the Chicago TRACON and Jennifer Settle from ORD tower opened the VFR section, running through dozens of communications tips with the 100+ pilots in the audience. Trujillo, a knowledgeable, friendly presenter, told pilots he and Jennifer were on scene to help “eliminate fear and anxiety,” about radio communications, as well as to reinforce their belief that “ambiguity and confusion in communications are a big deal when it comes to safety.”

While topics may have sounded pretty basic to more experienced aviators, like the difference between the meaning of “contact,” and “monitor,” or between “roger,” “wilco,” and even “affirmative,” and “negative,” and how they all relate to each other made it clear there were plenty of people happy to admit the terms confused them. How pilots should handle that first call to Chicago Approach was another. What made the session even more valuable was when the two experienced controllers explained some of the problems they run into as controllers and how pilots can help them provide better traffic flow and improve overall safety.

On the flying companion side, the room was filled with a dozen or so partners of pilots, most of whom had been out flying previously. Instructors Cynthia Madsen and Deb Meznarsic patiently explained, not simply how flight instruments and radios worked, but how they all interconnected and why that was important. They explained the intricacies of how to change both the radio frequencies and transponder codes, as well as a few tricks to avoid confusion with an audio panel, just in case the person in right seat needed to actually use it. The session ended with a practical explanation of some of the details of both the Garmin Pilot and Foreflight apps used on iPads.

There were also more than 100 pilots in the IFR session, navigated in part by Leading Edge Flying Club instructor Lou Wipotnik, who spent a couple of sessions explaining valuable bits and pieces of information often overlooked on instrument approach plates.