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Day 16 – Tower chatter

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge

Last Sunday a friend and I, both of whom had been cooped up non-stop for a dozen days in avoidance of The Bug, she in her home, I in mine, decided to hell with this; we needed to get out and take a tour of our hamlet before I went totally buggy crafting a column-a-day for This is Reno, as I have promised to do, and promise made is a debt unpaid. Robert Service, not I, said that in his Spell of the Yukon a century ago.

The original plan was to take my ragtop, top down, and let some fresh air substitute for six feet of space and separation. But, a few drops of rain squelched that notion. Ergo, a word I write only sparingly, we elected to take the tour in my Honda.

And so we toured, every nook and cranny of Reno and Sparks, seeing some vistas we hadn’t seen for a year. Quite enjoyable. At some intersection, I think turning left off McCarran onto somewhere, I’m new here, my co-pilot leaned her head back and said “Clear on the right” and I muttered under my breath “and I’ll take the chicken.”

“I beg your pardon?” said my co-pilot. I repeated, “and I’ll take the chicken. You said ‘clear on the right’ and I said ‘And I’ll take the chicken’.”  I explained to her that the copilot of a airplane, seated in the right seat, has the clearer view to the right and when the plane’s  doing a left turn onto the runway, the co-pilot always says “Clear on the right” so the pilot knows he’s not turning in front of landing traffic.

“OK. What’s that have to do with chicken?”

airplane cockpit captain pilot
Image: Jonny Belvedere, Pixabay

I continued this pointless oratory: “When the pilot and co-pilot are having dinner they always have different things on the menu, so if one item is bum they’re not both impaired by food poisoning. The pilot, by his seniority, gets first pick and usually has the steak. The co-pilot gets what’s left so will have the chicken. Hence, the saying ‘clear on the right and I’ll have the chicken’ has become a running joke in cockpits for many years…”

I’m really glad I brought that up…

But, it’s said that when your heels are off the ground it doesn’t matter how high they hang you, so I asked her if she’d ever heard of the famous lady captain’s question that occurred a score of years ago in Salt Lake City. She said no.  

I assured her as we motored stately down McCarran Boulevard that this tale was verified by tapes of transmissions released by the FAA and were the real deal.

Western Airlines, to their credit, set the bar for aviation by hiring a handful of ladies to act as captains and first officers on their airliners. The exchange in question occurred one night when a Western flight was departing Salt Lake City. The transmission started shortly after departure from that airport, and contained the usual chatter, Salt Lake Tower releasing Western one-two-three to Salt Lake Departure who worked one-two-three into the starrier reaches of Utah airspace.

Eventually, the tape reveals Salt Lake Departure handing them off to Enroute Center, with a crisp “Western one-two-three contact Salt Lake Enroute on one-two-four-point six [radio frequency] squawk two-four-six-eight climb and maintain flight level two-four-zero heading one-eight-four…”

The transmission ended with “have a nice trip.” She responded, dutifully repeating all the given instructions, ending with, “Thanks; see you next trip.”

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Here, it gets weird. She trashed the Departure Control frequency with her next question, and the tower controller’s lightning-fast response “Salt Lake Departure, Western one-two-three; is my transmission fuzzy?” Departure: “I don’t know; how old are you?

OK – that in itself is humorous. But – the damage came in the ensuing five minutes of the tape: Every time anyone on the frequency, aircraft cockpit or control tower cab, opened a microphone, one could hear laughter in the background and there were not a few times that a mike would be opened with the operator unable to complete any sensible communication.

My co-pilot, enduring this tale, was so utterly moved that the only words she could form were, “Let’s go see if we can find a pizza…”

And we did – a cute little joint called Food & Drink in Midtown on St. Lawrence Street behind the Delmar Station of yore. Great pizza; go on their website as we did and take one out. It took my co-pilot’s mind off of any more tales of high adventure that I might weave.

OK – when I offered to write a column for This is Reno to take readers’ minds off the Coronavirus, I didn’t say they’d be good columns. Or relevant. I could have dolled the preceding anecdote up and lied and said that it was from an Ernest Gann aviation tale with a musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin – it worked for High Noon.  But I’ll never lie to you.  Bore you, yes, but never lie.

So – tomorrow I’ll do better, promise. I’ll work on it; c’mon back here tomorrow and we’ll all together learn a bit more about our towns. And, be safe, huh?

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

Read more from Karl Breckenridge

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1 comments

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Tom Jacobs April 1, 2020 - 8:25 am

Karl, it was “The High and the Mighty” not “High Noon.”

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