English: Perth Aerodrome Inside the control to...

Inside the control tower. The instruments give wind speed and direction . A Cessna 152 taxis out for a training flight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wind Just Changed Direction

For me, part of learning how to fly a plane was knowing what I needed to tell air traffic controllers when I communicated with them for permission to land, receiving guidance as to which runway was free.

So, I found myself in the air traffic control tower of the airport where I was taking pilot lessons, outside Buenos Aires, Argentina, one bright, clear afternoon.

The Argentine air traffic controller asked me if I wanted to take the mike.

Let’s look at this from everyone’s perspective:


I was thrilled at the opportunity to actually bring a pilot in.

Though an international airport, most of the pilots using it were Argentines and spoke to the tower in Spanish.

My Spanish was adequate for conversation, but poor under stress.

The more I knew what was expected, the less stress.

The tower

There are only a few words and phrases typically used in the pilot/controller conversation.

The controller tells the pilot the wind speed and direction, which runway he’s allowed to use and when he’s allowed to land.

If there are other planes in front of him, he tells the pilot the direction and height or distance from the tower to circle while waiting for permission to land.

The pilot

The pilot confirms that he has heard and understood the directions from the tower.

If he needs to be bumped up in the landing line, he explains his emergency.

On this day

When I took the mike, a plane was coming in.

I gave the pilot the wind speed and direction, in Spanish.

Just as they were about to touch down, the wind direction changed.

The controller quickly told me the new direction so I could convey it to the pilot.

But, this is where my Spanish failed me.

There were only seconds to change the pilot’s expectations about wind direction and I could not get the words out fast enough.

He was flying what is commonly called a “tail-dragger,” a Cessna 150 that has wheels under the tail.

They are less expensive to buy and maintain and cause less damage to the plane if the wheels fail and the tail crashes to the ground.

By contrast, if nose wheels fail, the propeller can be damaged.

But, tail-draggers are harder to learn how to fly.

And, they are vulnerable to cross winds.

The change in wind direction just before this plane touched down affected them, when their wheels touched down, as though they were a weather vane pushed around by the wind.

The pilot almost blew off the runway before he was able to get control of his plane.


I told the controller I needed to apologize to the pilot.

He laughed.

He said, “That is your husband. I expect you will have a longer conversation when you get home tonight.”

We did have a longer conversation.

My husband had not recognized my voice.

There was a female air traffic controller at this airport and he’d thought it was her.

But, he wondered why the heck she hadn’t warned him about the change in wind direction in time for him to do something about it.

I gained a new respect for air traffic controllers and the fragile communication lines that keep pilots safe.

Have you ever been in a situation with your husband where he didn’t know it was you?

Have you ever wondered what it is like to sit in an air traffic controller’s seat?

Do your grandchildren enjoy flying?

To you and sharing stories of your life’s adventures with your grandchildren.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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