Hitting the Nail on the Head

David Evans hits the nail right on the head with his discussion of on-board fires in the June 2000 issue (page 56). I thought my recent experience was a fluke. Only a couple of months ago I was on-board an MD-80, sitting directly across from the aft galley. During the en route phase of the flight, the sounds of electrical arcing snapped my head around with plenty of time to see a stream of sparks, smoke and flames spew from one of the ovens. It seemed like it took forever for the breaker to trip, and all the while I’m trying to determine the best way to get out of my window seat, over the two other people in my row, to get to the fire extinguisher.

There were three flight attendants in the galley at the time, and not one moved for the extinguisher–it seemed they were like the proverbial "deer in the headlights." As luck would have it, there was no fire, and the pilot elected to continue the flight. Maybe Jim Shaw should start adding passenger "war stories" to his database!

Scott Traurig

Free Flight before GATM?

I’ve enjoyed and benefited greatly from the articles your magazine has published on Free Flight and its impact on the cockpit architecture and the air traffic control system.

I’m a bit confused, though, on the origination of the military’s Global Air Traffic Management System (GATM). It appears to me that Free Flight is the grandfather of the GATM system. Is this true? Where can I find reference material on GATM. Is Free Flight and GATM one and the same, but with different nomenclature? It appears that the military has adopted its own nomenclature for the same system. I would appreciate any information you can provide me with to obtain more reference info on GATM.

Jim Bennett
Vice President
Snow Aviation International


No, Free Flight and GATM are not the same, although there are many parallels. The concept of Free Flight came about in the 1960s–the aim of which involved "smart" aircraft that would radically reduce the role of the air traffic controller. Ideally, with Free Flight, the aircraft equipment would do most of the work, coordinating flight routes, altitude levels, speed, and distance between other aircraft. There would be more reliance on technology and less on human performance, which Free Flight supporters say would reduce the chances for human error. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has created an extensive Website devoted to Free Flight at www.faa.gov/freeflight.

GATM can be interpreted as the military version of Free Flight, as they share the similar technologies and processes. But one did not necessarily come before the other, and neither GATM nor Free Flight has been implemented yet, although the technology essentially exists, and the framework is currently being mapped by the FAA, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and others. The current GATM plan is projected to come into effect in 2010. For more on GATM, visit www.hanscom.af.mil or http://herbb.hanscom.af.mil/info.asp?rfp=R39 .

–Avionics Magazine editorial

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