Playing the Game

Much of flight boils down to the decision making process. This is particularly true when it comes to weather and fuel and many times, either weather depends on the fuel situation or vice versa. An intriguing part of flight planning is the idea of flying on your own (VFR) or having to work with controllers (IFR). Most inexperienced pilots are spring-loaded to plan and fly instruments because they think that is “more professional” or something like that. What they don’t understand yet, is that flying on an IFR is a lot more expensive than going VFR. Even contacting approach control too early in the terminal area can cost a lot more in terms of time and fuel.

I have talked about flying cross-country with many students and inexperienced pilots and they are surprised to discover that many of us “old guys” very rarely file and fly IFR. They truly don’t know the extra time it takes until I explain that minutes could end up costing perhaps thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars. The next question usually asked is, “How?”

When I was flying Part 135 charter throughout the Southeast, we were primarily working for the Atlanta Federal Reserve running checks from and to various branches. At any given time, there was the pilot sitting in the only seat of a Cessna 210 with about $6 or $7 million in canceled checks tied under the cargo netting. In my case on my normal runs, I had to have those checks at the Miami branch no later than 12:01 a.m. on the weekdays I flew. Each branch had a time clock that every pilot had to punch. Once the pilot popped the time card in, that became the official time the checks arrived at the Reserve. If the time punched was 12:02 a.m., the banks lost the daily interest on that $6M – probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 to $1200 for that one day. So, yes, getting there on time was a big deal – a very big deal.

Often, the difference was whether we had to file and fly instruments or not. Corollary to this was delaying talking to Approach until the last possible moment. Dealing with Approach was almost tantamount to flying instruments. Once ATC got their hands on you, you were subject to their every command and whim.

Once you checked in, you were playing their game – by their rules. There are, however, ways to play their game so that you come out ahead. For example, going into Miami International, I delayed calling Approach until I had to. Coming from the northwest, I simply let myself down to keep under the floor of the Class B (called the TCA in those days). Then, when I felt like I could check in with minimal vectoring, I would call.

Because we had a good working relationship with the Miami controllers, they would often let us “work our way” in between airliners flying final to 9L. Of course, we did everything to help out the controllers and heavy pilots, such as flying final at 140 knots and clearing the runway at the highspeeds as quickly as we could.

I understand young pilots being predisposed to filing IFR and working with the controllers. They need the experience; but at the same time, I don’t understand their acceptance of the loss of freedom. I wrote about the oxymoron of flying for freedom, and giving up that freedom to controllers previously in “You Are Cleared to Blah, Blah, Blah.”

Shortly after I mastered playing the game with Miami Approach and became comfortable flying solo cross-countries in all kinds of weather at night, I left the company to join the Navy. It was time to challenge myself again, and I could think of no greater challenge than mixing rocking and rolling boats with jet airplanes.


©2015 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Playing the Game

  1. Good read Joe. By the way, I enjoyed your book. Which, on that vein, I need to tell you your past encouragement and your book has motivated me in writing my own. I’m learning it really takes time and the pile of dust and cobwebs that have accumulated on my memory is astounding. What’s good is I have my best friend who’s been flying with me all these years to sweep off the dust. He’s an excellent duster. Thanks for the good reads and encouragement.


  2. Joe Clark says:


    Just catching up on a lot of stuff. As always, thanks for the positive comments. I like your comments about the cobwebs; in one respect, that is why I keep putting words to paper – it is an attempt to fight off my own cobwebs.

    I keep popping through your website and your posts on Facebook and I have to say, you really do have a book in all of your stories. The nice thing about the writing technology of today is that it makes the mechanical aspects of putting words to paper (if we can call computer screens, tablets, and iPhones paper) much easier.

    Keep plugging away and if you need more encouragement or advice, I am right at the end of the electron trail…


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