Socata TBM 900 N900KN in better days. Photo: scotch-canadian -

Socata TBM 900 N900KN in better days – Photo: scotch-canadian –

Throughout the past 35 years, there have been several high-profile cases of aircraft crashes due to cabin depressurization, with one of these being an airliner. Aircraft pressurization is actually a pretty simple process on modern aircraft, and is almost always computer-controlled. Aircraft are pressurized through the use of compressed air that is either supplied by bleed air tapped off of the engines, or, as in the case of smaller piston engine aircraft and the Boeing 787, by a compressor on board the aircraft.

This pressurized air is regulated through the means of outflow valves that help to maintain cabin pressure to the design limits of the airframe. Most commercial aircraft are pressurized to an altitude of 8,000 feet, with the main exception being the 787, which is pressurized to 6,000 feet. In very rare cases, however, things go wrong, as was experienced in the tragic loss of a Socata TBM 900 off the coast of Jamaica on September 5th.

ANA's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner is being delivered on Monday.

The Boeing 787 is designed to be pressurized at 6,000 feet

At roughly 10:00 a.m. Eastern time, TBM 900 N900KN, the first of its type to be delivered, was last heard from by ATC as it made its way from Rochester, NY to Naples, FL. Approximately 40 minutes later, two F-16s from McEntire Joint National Guard Base in South Carolina intercepted the aircraft and found all of its windows frosted over, and according to audio from the fighters, they could see the pilot slumped over in the pilot’s seat, and reportedly he could “see pilot’s chest moving, hopes he regains consciousness as unresponsive plane descends.”

It is not known at this time what exactly happened, but the frosted windows are one indication of a rapid depressurization of the cabin. The aircraft continued on the last heading programmed into its autopilot for roughly 1,200 miles before finally running out of fuel. Tragic as it is, this type of incident is not unheard of, as it has happened before with very similar results.

Real-time air traffic map courtesy

Almost without fail, the question I get immediately following, “What do you do?” is, “Oh, so you work at the tower?” I’ve been a controller for nine years now, and no, I’ve never worked at a tower. I actually work in a big windowless building, nowhere near an airport. While the question irks some of us, it’s easy to see why it’s asked so often: The tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks of the flying experience. Of course the mainstream media almost never gets it right. Any time the news talks about ATC, we are referred to as the “controllers in the tower.” And the alternative misconception, that we are the crews on the ramp marshaling aircraft with the orange sticks, is no better. Let’s see if we can start clearing up just what we do as air traffic controllers.

ATC That You Can See
When you’re at an airport waiting for a flight, you can see all the hustle and bustle going on outside the windows – aircraft landing, departing and taxiing to and from the ramp. There are even other vehicles speeding about all the time. Every one of these is handled by people in the control tower. Even before your plane starts pushing back from the gate, the pilots are in contact with controllers, relaying information back and forth about their flight plan and taxi instructions to the runway.

Finally, with some patience, your pilots hear, “Cleared for takeoff.” The engines of your airplane roar to full power, you get pushed back in your seat, the rumble of the concrete suddenly becomes silky smooth and off you go. Everything beneath you becomes much smaller…and then what? It’s a big sky and the pilots have a flight plan, so they know where to go, right? Sixty years ago that may have been possible, but it is certainly not anymore. The airspace is far too busy and the airplanes far too fast for pilots to go it alone these days.

Continue reading Beyond the Tower: The Controllers That Guide You the Rest of the Way on

Frontier Airlines' new livery, which draws upon their history - Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Frontier Airlines’ new livery, which draws upon their history – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Frontier Airlines, the Denver-based carrier which has recently been pushing towards “ultra-low-cost carrier” status, today revealed a new livery which draws upon their history.  The animal tails remain, but the Saul Bass-designed 70’s-era “F” returns, along with the cheat line arrow off the original DC-3s from the 1950s. (While the “F” is cool, my favorite Saul Bass livery still has to be the United tulip – I want to see a United 787 painted that way!)

The first Boeing 737 in Southwest's new livery - Photo: Mal Muir

The first Boeing 737 (Heart One – N8642E) in Southwest’s new livery – Photo: Mal Muir

On a sunny Texas Monday morning, Southwest gathered hundreds of its employees, along with media from all over the country, to reveal a mystery that had been partially hinted at in previous days. Hints, rumors, and gossip pointed to a new livery and new branding, with huge feedback from not only passengers but Southwest staff wanting to make their feelings known.

But as everyone gathered in the hangar, it was almost a party-like atmosphere. CEO Gary Kelly got into the spirit and was among the staff, greeting folks and posing for photos.

More than just the planes are being updated - Photo: Mal Muir

More than just the planes are being updated – Photo: Mal Muir

When Kelly took the stage, he told the crowd how proud they should be. The airline employees have worked hard over the last 12 months for this special moment. “The one constant thing in the company is heart,” he said.

This gave a giant hint into what was to come. As the lights went down, a video played showing a transformation. The old livery shed its skin to a blank canvas. The new heart branding then slowly appeared onto the 737 on screen. Soon after, the doors opened, and there was the 737 in a new livery was waiting outside.