Rookie Controller Welcome to Austin! A Story from the 1970s by Esteban Erik Stipnieks
Authors note: This is the first of a series written from a conversation with my father. The conversation occurred on a Sunday at Jims. It is more closely related to fiction. I did not interview the flight crew it is a mental reconstruction of an event using my knowledge to his words.
Historical Note: Into the 1980s a crossing runway running south east to northwest was operated at Robert Mueller Muncipal airport it was later converted to a taxiway. Airport Blvd so named parraleled this runway. It did take commercial traffic. I remember the sound of jets coming over the Churches Fried Chicken in the general vicinity north of the airport east I-35 1985ish they were landing on the runway. My sister was in middle school at the time
He had aspired to be an airline pilot he had seen action in Vietnam flying OH-6s, OH-13s, and UH-1s he was there when Tet happened. Later in life his son would be blown away by his appreciation of the AC-47 in the teen agers mind the comprehension of the airplane saving his father's life would emerge. Yet this night he was ground bound yet to enter his second military career in the tower cab of Austin Robert Mueller Municipal airport he was in training. He was getting a different perspective of flight.
The Venerable arch the Romans realized how much horizontal space you can open up by use of a massive curve instead of simple span uniform stress points. WWII turned many sleepy airfields that had hobbyists light traffic and the curiosity seeker into hustling bustling airports. The United States was at war pilots were needed as factories cranked up machines were made. Naturally such airplanes needed to maintained as they trained a generation men to use them as weapons of war. A hangar was constructed. The arch allowed a smaller amount of materials to be used as the material stressed and formed to be thinner and remain strong. The catch was round up shot up high above the ground. The Browning hangar was constructed and it would remain a landmark of the airport from then on out.
Weather is a complex thing. A butterfly flapping its wings in Africa could rebound and have an effect Texas. The weather tonight was making things interesting. The distance between air temperature and dew point started shrinking. The distance between temp and dew point started shrinking fast. Cloud ceiling we getting lower and getting lower quickly.
Piper Cubs, F-4 Phantoms, Boeing 727s and DC-9s Oh my! Austin had a reputation the reputation was well earned. Within a 10 mile radius you had an Air Force base full of F-4s, a major municipal airport with jet airline traffic mixing with GA, two other general aviation airports one dealing with gliders. For all the gross potential for disaster flight instructors, local private pilots, airline pilots, freight dogs, military pilots and air traffic controllers made it work. The airspace of DFW for pilots who learned under local instructors was a cake walk. The captain and co-pilot of the Texas International flight were aware as the weather was closing in GA would not be a factor but the weather was. No football game close by so men overcompensating for their short comings with expensive toys. Just pros in the sky. Unaware the hot dog on the other end of microphone was breaking in green controller out of Oklahoma City training. The hot dog would later leave Austin for more hazardous airspace in the LA area.
The weather was closing in and he was given the shorter runway the surface winds were more southerly but weak and fog was closing in he had been handed off from approach and now in the final segments of a flight the pucker factor increasing as the ceiling was decreasing. The flight was bound for 16 R. The rookie controller his teacher were watching for the Texas International DC-9 coming in from the northwest. The tension in the cockpit continued to grow as the airplane descended looking for runway that was harder and harder to spot. Then all of sudden the rounded white top of a hangar appeared. (The Browning Hangar) Oh Shit! Altitude way under 500 AGL airplane not on runway heading almost hitting one of the highest buildings on the airport. The hands on the throttle instantly reacted the JT-8Ds in the rear of the Texas International DC-9 were accelerated to full power. Robert Mueller at this point was not the biggest airport and the area to execute a go around not on runway heading was not quite large the only good news south the airport was a residential area. The nose appeared awfully close to the Browning hangar. The airplane was not lined up it was a shock! In the tower the hot dog controller in the role of a teacher and mentor showed he had the makings of a pro his hand was over microphone. Wisdom was his guide. "We do not want anything on tape if he crashes if he makes it through he has enough to deal with right now." The pilot instead of hearing panic from the control tower useless data to be ignored instead was given time and peace to deal with the bad situation. No useless noise from ATC no panic voice he could aviate the first in hierarchy of priorities was done in peace. The pilot aviated. Knowledge and skill were allowed to come into play the engines spooled up the airplane accelerated and climbed out over the airport and lower residential and business section around the airport. Pilot and Co pilot a team ATC did its bit. Mueller Tower knowing to shut up. The flight ended with an uneventful landing after the go around passengers some of them who were looking had a tale to tell.
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