Teterboro Tower! This is Piper Two Oh Two...I’m a turnin’ on my downwind leg, this landings over due...
One of the busiest, if not the busiest general aviation airport in the United states is Teterboro, New Jersey across the Hudson River from New York City.
The controllers in Teterboro have a reputation for occasionally being difficult. It may be because the airport is so busy or maybe there is something in the water. I don’t know, but their reputation is so well established that in 1961 a song was made about them.
Here’s a Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x37f-_XrMJ0
My personal experience with Teterboro’s hospitality came in 1998 when I accompanied my friend Jim Chandler on a business trip.
Jim offered me the opportunity to fly co-pilot with him in a King Air B100 on a two day trip. He knew I had not flown much in the past few years but said it wouldn’t be a problem as he could do everything. I would just be along for backup and to comply with the insurance requirement for two pilots.
The plan was to deadhead to Teterboro, New Jersey; spend the night close to the airport and the next morning carry two passengers to Raleigh, NC where we would pick-up the Chairman of the Board of Jim’s company and return to Chattanooga.
Jim knew my son Jason was in school in New York, so he suggested we leave Chattanooga in the morning to give us plenty of time to spend some time in the city with Jason.
After a nice flight to Teterboro and a great visit with Jason, Jim and I returned to the Embassy Suites in Teterboro early enough to get a good night’s sleep.
Bright and early the next morning we were at the airport to prepare the plane. Jim arranged for coffee and pastries, then filed a flight plan to Raleigh-Durham, NC (RDU). I offered to make the coffee to try and make myself useful, but Jim said it was no problem and took care of it.
After filing the flight plan, Jim announced, “Well, we’re ready to go as soon as the passengers arrive.” Easy, breezy!
Once the passengers arrived and were aboard, Jim and I climbed into the cockpit where Jim started through the checklist. I was feeling pretty useless so I told Jim I’d call clearance delivery and get our clearance to Raleigh. Operating the radio was the least I could do.
I tuned the radio to the clearance delivery frequency and found a pad of paper and a pen I could use to copy the clearance when issued by the controller. I would have to read the clearance back to the controller word for word to ensure we understood our clearance accurately.
I keyed the microphone and said, “Teterboro Clearance, this is King Air 1234 Bravo IFR to Raleigh-Durham.”
Teterboro clearance responded immediately and at a typical New York pace,
“King Air 1234 bravo is cleared to the Raleigh-Durham airport via heading 240 degrees to intercept course 260 degrees to Wentz, cross Wentz at 1500 feet, then on track 280 degrees to Tasca, cross Tasca at 2000 or as assigned by ATC, then on track 284 degrees to Ruudy, then on heading 280 degrees expect vectors to Victor Five to Richmond, Victor Seven to Raleigh-Durham. After departure, climb and maintain 2000 feet, expect one seven thousand (17,000 feet) ten minutes after departure. Squak 3456, Departure control frequency 126.7.”
I had only been able to write down a small portion of the clearance so I knew I wouldn’t be able to repeat the entire clearance correctly, but I gave it a try using a slow, southern drawl hoping the controller would slow his pace when he read it back to me, as he now was forced to do.
I was wrong. He didn’t slow down. His tone and speed remained the same as he read the entire clearance to me once again.
“King Air 1234 bravo is cleared to the Raleigh-Durham airport via heading 240 degrees...
This time I was able to copy down more of the clearance, but still only had a portion of it; so, I said, “Standby.”
My inability to read back the clearance was embarrassing to both Jim and me and I felt horrible because it was the only thing I had even tried to do to earn my keep.
And, I was failing miserably.
Since I had not been involved with filing the flight plan, I had no idea of what route Jim had requested, so I thought Jim would be better able to read the clearance back; so, I gave Jim a defeated, can you help look.
Jim looked back at me with a look that conveyed, “Sorry, I can’t help you...but, I sure am getting embarrassed.”
Finally, it occurred to me the controller must be reading the details of a SID, a Standard Instrument Departure. Typically, controllers only give you the name of the SID since the procedures are published.
This controller was different. He was reading out every procedure published in a SID without identifying it was a SID. In other words, he was earning his Teterboro reputation.
At most airports, the clearance would have sounded more like this:
King Air 1234 Bravo is cleared to the Raleigh-Durham Airport, via the RUUDY FIVE DEPARTURE, Victor 5 to Richmond, Victor 7 to Raleigh-Durham. Climb and maintain 2000, expect one seven thousand ten minutes after departure, squawk 3456, Departure Control Frequency 126.7.
But this was Teterboro after all and this controller was getting a chuckle at our expense.
I grabbed the Flight Charts, flipped to the Teterboro approach plates and located the SIDs. Sure enough I found the SID the controller was reading, so I was finally ready to read back the clearance including all the details of the published SID.
I keyed the microphone and said, “Teterboro Clearance, King Air 1234 Bravo is ready to read back.”
“Go ahead,” said the controller.
I read the entire clearance including all the details published on The RUUDY FIVE DEPARTURE and we were cleared to RDU...with our tails between our legs.
This was probably my most embarrassing flying moment and for the longest time, I lamented that I had lacked the presence of mind to get in the last word with the controller by asking him, “Clearance would you mind looking at your Really Big Watch and telling me how long it took to read the details of the SID?”
If you don’t understand the Really Big Watch reference, it’s an old saying that suggests pilots have big watches to compensate for small body parts. This controller had earned his Big Watch comment, I just wasn’t able to deliver.
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