Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tower 2000 feet - Dead Ahead...

Mike Mock, pilot with Memorial Hermann Lifeflight writes:

I had a discussion last night with FSS about a 2000' tower near Houston that had the lights out. Apparently they can't post a NOTAM based on a pilot's report, it has to come from the owner of the tower. He asked if I could drive by and find out who owns it, "it's usually on the fence". Uh, no, I flew past it at 0230 and it had no lights. He said he may try calling the local sheriff or something.

This is enough to make the short hairs on your neck stand up. An unlit tower standing 2000 feet up into the sky is a death trap looking for a victim. So how do we avoid being said victim?

In Mike's case, technology gave him a big assist. The aircraft he is flying has equipment that displays tower locations graphically. I have no such equipment in the aircraft I fly. While NVGs increase our ability to see at night, we could easily be upon a tower before seeing it under goggles.

The FAA requirement to check a route prior to flying it has been in effect for several years now, and we haven't had a tower strike in a while. I wonder if pilots are becoming a complacent about completing this step prior to lift off - just a glance at a chart. " I am here... going there.... there's the highest tower..."  Even the most dedicated pilot can get a route change, or deviate for weather or ATC or traffic. In that case, the preflight check no longer works. We really have to be familiar enough with the area to simply know where the big ones are.

It's a big sky, The odds of striking a tower are small. But it happens.

The aftermath of a tower strike

The National Transportation Safety Board attributed the fatal 2008 crash of an Air Angels medical helicopter in Aurora to the pilot's "inadequate preflight planning" and flying too low, which caused the copter to strike a radio tower.
"During preflight planning, the pilot should have identified the obstacles along the route of flight, including the radio station tower," the report said.
I am on duty at a "new" base, on night shifts. On my arrival I was advised about a large unlit tower near here, then another pilot mentioned another one. Checking NOTAMS will reveal a long list of unlit towers in the area, too many to keep up with. I note the ones above a thousand feet, and try to memorize those locations. Being unfamiliar with the area, my night altitude minimums are higher than normal. If the weather won't let me fly at these higher altitudes, I won't go.

I asked a friend about a number to report unlit towers, Stu
  • The number I have is to the FAA to report unlit towers. 877-487-6867. I haven't used it yet. I don't know if it works.

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