Derek Bittman, Atlanta Center
President’s Award Winner for Overall Best Flight Assist of 2010
On Jan. 16, 2010, certified professional controller Derek Bittman stumbled across a particular situation that could have easily changed forever the life he had come to know so well.
Bittman was working the Dallas sector at Atlanta Center that day, the busiest and most complex sector in the world, when he was handed over a pilot with navigation equipment mal- functions. This pilot, planning to end his trip in the Atlanta terminal area, had already missed two approaches at the destination due to low ceilings and fog, and furthermore, was low on fuel. After discussing various choices, the pilot opted to proceed to Rome (RMG) for a last attempt, a fairly busy general aviation airport 60 miles northwest of Atlanta.
Bittman: If you can’t make this approach at Rome do you want to go, try and go somewhere else? Do you have a plan B?
N3011N: This was plan B, one-one november.
Confirming Bittman’s fears, the pilot declared a few minutes later that he was still not able to find the airport. With rapidly diminishing options and only 45 minutes of fuel remaining, N3011N was now in a very desperate situation.
After advising that his only offer for the aircraft at this point would be another attempt of the ILS into RMG, Bittman learned that the pilot was not only having trouble with his glide slope on the VOR but his lateral CDI, as well. In receiving this information, Bittman declared an emergency on behalf of the pilot. Providing vectors back to the RMG VOR, he informed the pilot of the area’s numerous highways should the escalating situation resort to immediate landing.
With the VOR the pilot was using to find the airport now malfunctioning, Bittman was forced to use his last resort. Having already split off the sector in order to provide sole attention to the aircraft, he began application of his knowledge from past Marine Corps experience to help this pilot find the airport. He provided precision vectors, similar to an ASR approach, to the aircraft while using the approach plate to give vertical guidance – a tactic not commonly used by the enroute center due to its unreliable radar data and the absence of minimum vectoring altitudes.
Bittman: November one-one november, uh, make sure you understand sir, the calls that I’m giving you are suggestive in nature sir. I do not have a glide slope or a localizer depicted on the scope.
Bittman: Increase the rate of descent… appears you’re left of course and going farther left. Turn five degrees right.
Bittman: November one-one november, radar contact lost, two and a half miles south of the Rome Airport. Last track I had on you had you on course into Rome Airport.
Due to the quick actions by this educated controller, the pilot was able to make visual contact with the runway right before the touchdown point. As it happens, he ran out of gas while taxiing to the ramp, confirming the fact that Bittman’s efforts saved his life.
Bittman used his experience and his skill to help this pilot in his efforts to reach the ground, remarkable qualities both honorable and extraordinary. Bittman made a truly committed controller’s decision – the decision to do whatever it took to save a life.
A transcript of this recording can be found HERE.