Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

28 December 2009

Strange Things We Pilots See From The Air

There are a lot of military bases in the northwest Florida area. Right here in my home town we have the Pensacola Naval Air Station (summer home for the Blue Angels!), which still has active training squadrons. Nearby Whiting Field is where the bulk of the Navy’s “primary” fixed-wing and helicopter training takes place. (That’s where the newbies get their first real flight training.) Just to our east is the Air Force’s Hurlburt Field, where the hush-hush “Special Ops” squadrons are based. Further down the coast is Eglin Air Force Base. And just to our northeast in Dothan, Alabama is the U.S. Army’s Fort Rucker helicopter training base.

So there are always a lot of military aircraft flying around. And there is a lot of what we call “Special Use Airspace” we have to know about. The military uses big chunks of the sky here. There are different categories of airspace. Some of it we are prohibited from ever entering; these usually surround “sensitive” military ground installations. Some of it is restricted pretty much all the time. Others are just “Military Operating Areas” or “Alert Areas," where we know to be on the lookout for military planes and helicopters.

Enroute Charts at SkyVector.com

If you right-click on the little snippet of map above, it'll open up a portion of the FAA aeronautical ("Sectional") chart we pilot use. You can scroll in and out. You'll see a bunch of odd-shaped boxes bordered in either blue or magenta. These are all the special-use airspaces. By zooming out a bit, you can see that northwest Florida and south Alabama are just about covered with them.

As you can see, the different airspaces are "clearly" depicted on our aviation charts. But here, where so many different types of airspaces often overlap, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which is which and what type of airspace you’re in, and whether or not you should be there. It can be a challenge. It takes some diligent studying of the chart to make sure you don’t go astray. Communication with ATC is vital. The military doesn’t take incursions into “their” airspace lightly.

Destin, Florida is a popular vacation spot. Its little airport gets lots of traffic. Unfortunately, it sits smack-dab in the middle of the Eglin Restricted Areas. Graciously, the military has given us a couple of corridors through which to get there. We can get in and out, but we must talk to Eglin Approach and we must have a clearance in advance.

The north-south corridor takes us over an old training airport called Field 2. It's a big place. There’s not much going on now, although I imagine that it was hopping back during the Viet Nam days. Perhaps it dates back to the Korean War or earlier? On the ground is an old Lockheed C-130 Hercules that probably should be in a museum somewhere. Also there are two old F-4 Phantoms. These airplanes seem to be in an almost-flyable condition. However the runways are not maintained so it would be pretty tough to fly them out. I don’t think they ever will.

It's not a great picture, but I don't like flying too low over these facilities, especially if they are still in use, as Field 2 seems to be - although for what, I have no idea. (The curved thingee in the lower-left corner of the picture is the defogger vent of my helicopter.)

When you fly low, as we helicopters do, you can miss seeing the big picture. I'd flown up and down the corridor a couple of times before noticing something odd. Just south of Field 2 is a site that is now used as a gunnery range for tanks. However, it is a little unusual.

As you can see, it is very clearly in the shape of an arrow, and it must have been cut that way deliberately. It even shows up well Google Maps.

View Larger Map

I suspect that the field was originally made and used during WWII. (The buildings at the point of the arrow are fairly recent.) I have no idea where it might have been leading Air Force pilots. It does not seem to point “at” anything. The city of and airport at Crestview, Florida are well to the left of the point.

Of course, maybe it is just a gunnery or some sort of bombing range that just happens to have been carved out of the trees in the shape of an arrow. Maybe somebody knows.


Redlefty said...

Well, it was nice knowing ya, before you spilled the beans on all this and mysteriously disappeared!

Davepar said...

Another way to sort out special use airspaces is to use RunwayFinder. Click on "Settings" and turn on SUAs. You can then click on the map and a balloon will tell you what airspaces cover that point. You can also switch to map or satellite view to find landmarks for airspace edges.

Anonymous said...

Mr Bob
Your approach tot eh holidays is very refreshing. Merry Christmas and a Very Merry New Year from Texas. Russell

Anonymous said...

It is north west FL maybe the aliens made the arrow? We had a blast hanging out with you last week, see you soon! Matt

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

From the opposite perspective, it appears to be a firing range "range fan".

helicopter pilot training said...

As a helicopter pilot myself I have seen many a strange thing from the air. Maybe we should start a site specifically for these images. It might make a great coffee table book some day! Ha!

Bob Barbanes said...

HPT, I agree! I always carry a camera with me now. There are lots of other unusual things in this area - just military stuff, really, but interesting nontheless. Maybe a collection of such pictures would make a good book!

Anonymous said...

The large buildings at the tip are housing munitions, Eglin is the largest R&D Air Force Base in the Country. That particular airfield is used by the Eglin Aero modelers(R/C aircraft). You can find all that info on their webpage. Stay off the new & improved, small, black section of runway because you can damage it by driving on it(so we're told); but that's where they meet and fly r/c aircraft.