We lost one of our former controllers/supervisors Tuesday afternoon. Mike Blume retired eight years ago and the last I'd heard he was flying corporate jets. He had been a pilot for years. I never worked directly with or for Mike but I'd only ever heard good things about him.
The photo to the right is the actual plane Mike was piloting when he died. Photo courtesy of John Meneely.
I do have one 'Mike' story to recount from about 15 years ago. I was working a low altitude sector in Iowa and one of the planes in my sector was a single engine aircraft that had come up from Omaha, Nebraska and was attempting to land at Mason City, Iowa. The low ceiling and poor visibility that had settled in the previous night and was forecast to lift hadn't improved at all. The pilot was qualified to make an instrument approach but if I remember correctly she didn't have the approach plates (diagram of the approach) for Mason City. Controllers in the sector can relay the pertinent information to the pilot to enable them to do the approach but it's seldom ever done that way and when it is there are very few non-pilot controllers who feel all that comfortable doing it.
The weather was at minimums and she'd missed the approach at least a couple of times when she commented to me that she didn't have "an incredible amount of fuel left". Knowing the weather was low IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) throughout the area I asked her how much fuel she had remaining. She replied "20 minutes". I turned to the supervisor at the desk in my area and said "I need a pilot. Now!" 20 minutes of fuel remaining would be enough to execute one more full approach and one last shot at breaking out and getting the aircraft on the runway. Although I didn't convey to the pilot that I was declaring an emergency for her it was being treated as such.
Mike was in another area and was brought in to help. I don't think I could've hand-picked a more competent pilot/controller for the situation. He sat down at the sector and I quickly briefed him on the dilemma. He calmly reassured Lisa that he'd walk her through the approach and get her on the ground. Over the next several minutes he put himself in the seat next to her and talked her through the approach just as he said he would.
At the end of each instrument approach is a point called decision height and it's where the pilot either has the runway in sight and lands or doesn't and has to perform a missed approach where they go to a specified fix and hold while awaiting further instruction. When Lisa got to decision height she still didn't have the runway in sight. Mike and I were certain that she didn't have enough fuel for another approach. He calmly told her that if he was in her situation he'd nudge the nose over and try and lose another 100 to 200 feet of altitude in hopes that the aircraft would break out of the clouds. It wasn't a clearance or instruction Mike could legally give so he had to be careful not to state it that way. There really was no other option. The flight was coming down through the clouds eventually and this would be as controlled a descent as could be hoped for. She did as he suggested and moments later came back over the frequency stating "I can see the airport!" There was a big sigh from all of us.
It was less than a minute when she radioed back that she was on the ground.
I was impressed watching Mike virtually take over the controls of her airplane and both calm the pilot and be there with her for every mile of that approach. It couldn't have been done any better and I was grateful for his presence.
Months later I asked the Quality Assurance people if the incident was ever processed as a save. It wasn't. All in a day's work I suppose.
So long, friend.