Commercial, Military

Editor’s Note: A Fateful First Assignment

By David Jensen | March 1, 2002
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In this issue of Avionics Magazine, we introduce a new contributing editor, Harry Kraemer. He is an instructor pilot with turbine experience and instrument and multiengine ratings. Harry also is enrolled in two degree programs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Also an experienced reporter and writer, Harry will provide us with pilot evaluations of cockpit systems. Typically, this means he will be briefed on a system and then fly an aircraft on which the system is installed. That was the plan for his maiden story for Avionics Magazine, on Honeywell’s enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS–see page 18).

But not all things go as planned. For the EGPWS story, Honeywell officials gave Harry an extensive pre-flight briefing–enough information to write his story. He then was to fly to Teterboro, N.J., where an EGPWS-equipped Sikorsky S-76B was to be available for an evaluation flight. He departed from the Gaithersburg (Maryland) airport in a private plane, heading north toward New Jersey. However, he did not reach his destination. The day of his departure and scheduled flight in the S-76B was Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is what happened.

After filing an instrument flight plan, Harry climbed into his company’s Piper Saratoga and, at about 8:30 a.m., started flying north, towards Teterboro, which is near New York. His first radio contact was with Baltimore approach control, which reported that something had happened in the New York area and to expect delays.

Harry continued north and contacted Philadelphia approach control, which told him that an aircraft had hit the World Trade Center. He thought it must have been a terrible accident.

Following his flight plan, Harry was less than 40 miles from the Teterboro airport at about 10 a.m., when New York approach ordered him to exit New York airspace. He dialed in Honeywell’s company frequency. Honeywell personnel told Harry that they were on standby for emergency relief. The evaluation flight, obviously, was cancelled. So Harry broke from his flight plan and proceeded back to Gaithersburg, flying VFR.

En route, Harry learned that two aircraft had hit the World Trade Center and one had crashed into the Pentagon, in Washington. But the radio messages received from air traffic control and overheard from other pilots never mentioned the word "terrorist."

"I was confused," Harry related later. "Were we at war? Three crashes of such magnitude couldn’t have been coincidental."

In the loneliness of a single-engine aircraft cockpit, a lot can run through a person’s mind. Harry reached for his mobile phone and tried to call his wife in Maryland, but he was at too high an altitude to make contact.

Harry’s anxiety was heightened more, when he again contacted Baltimore approach. Somewhat surprised that he was still aloft, the controller told Harry to land immediately or risk being shot down. There were fighter aircraft in the area. He gave Harry radar vectors to the Carroll County (Maryland) Regional Airport, less than 30 miles from his Gaithersburg base.

Upon landing the Saratoga, Harry rushed into the terminal and to the nearest television to watch news reports. It was then that he learned why he had been denied access to Teterboro and forced to land.

Harry probably will not forget his first assignment for Avionics Magazine. We plan to send him on other assignments but hope none will be as eventful as the one on Sept. 11, 2001.

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