Saturday, February 18, 2017
He informed us that the Marine Base had called them about some paraglider pilots in their airspace. They happened to have a helicopter in the area already so it was easy for them to find us. They said they weren't going to do more than take our information, but they suggested we get in touch with the base.
I was nervous about contacting the base. Because while we had enjoyed great conditions for staying high above the airspace along the mountains, we had in fact landed in a field located just inside the perimeter, and we had also seen another pilot in our group turn around and head back toward our starting point on a line that was clearly below the airspace ceiling. He was a visitor and didn't quite understand the airspace issues, although that is certainly no excuse. So I could imagine many scenarios for the conversation ahead of me, and very few of them were good ones.
It took me a week to make the call. First I did a lot of airspace research, refreshing my knowledge and confirming my understanding of all the issues. I also talked to several fixed wing and helicopter pilots who have had communications with ATC at the base. And then I had to figure out which number on the public marine base directory would be the best starting place. I could imagine having to navigate through a crazy hierarchy of personnel before finding the person who had made the call to the police. Finally I decided to try calling the number listed for the air station duty officer, for lack of any better idea. And he immediately connected me with the right guy, Staff Sergeant Carey! That was quicker than I expected.
He explained that they had been running helicopters over the mountains that day, when one of their helicopter pilots reported paragliders in their airspace. A lot of them! They were surprised and they had to reroute their traffic. Since they had no other way to get in touch with us, they called the police to deliver the message. That is a strong way to send a message! On the bright side, they didn't scramble jets to intercept us.
The bottom line is they really want us to contact the tower when we're going to be passing by, or over, their airspace. Airband radio contact is ideal but a phone call will work as well. Most of us don't typically fly with airband radios, but I've just ordered one, so I'll have that option in the future. They want us to give them a heads up that we'll be flying near their airspace, including the number of paraglider pilots and the likely duration of the traffic. That way their pilots can give us a bit more lateral clearance. It's also possible that we could request clearance to actually transition through the edge of their airspace if necessary, and if their workload is low enough they might okay it. And if we're going to do that we'll need to learn the radio protocol to make that kind of request. But in the meantime, if we're high enough to stay clear, we can pass by after we give them a heads up that we're flying along the mountains just outside or over the cylinder.
Kaneohe ATC radio frequency: 120.7 MHz
Kaneohe ATC phone number: 808-257-8432
Everyone who is thinking of flying downrange from Makapuu past Kaneohe needs to understand how the Kaneohe airspace works: how far and high it extends, and when it's active. Check out a sectional, or even better, download the shapefiles and load them into Google Earth. The ceiling is 2,500 feet. As I understand it, the airfield (and airspace) is normally closed Sundays and holidays but that's subject to change on any given day or week. Check NOTAMs for PHNG before planning to pass by there on a given day.
Ideally we should all be flying with these nice modern instruments that show airspace clearly on a moving map as you're flying. I have a good one on my phone these days. I don't know how I ever stayed clear in the old days without using one! But at least we need an instrument to tell us how high we are, and we need to know exactly where the cylinder intersects the mountains and what line will keep us outside.
Posted by Alex at 11:07 AM