Disclaimer: Yes, I do personally know the author of this book. All I will say is that as a student pilot, I thoroughly enjoyed this book; many of the stories had me laughing out loud. I will let the Trib review speak for itself.
The only two places that I know you can buy this from are on Amazon, though I can't vouch for the shipping time, and bobrichardsbooks.com. I've been told that Borders/Barnes and Noble carry it as well.
FYI to Chicago- This was from today's Tribune, with a plug for it on the front page. Tomorrow the author will be interviewed on WGN news at noon.
Author reflects on days in tower
Air-traffic controller shares 'Secrets' from his time at O'Hare
August 20, 2007
At the end of a flight, usually the first thing you do is unbuckle the seat belt. But while reading a new book written by a veteran air-traffic controller at O'Hare International Airport, the more prudent advice would be to stay seated and keep the seat belt buckle secured snugly across your lap.
Then wait for the oxygen mask to drop out of the ceiling.
Bob Richards, a lifelong Chicago-area resident who grew up in Berwyn, retired in February after 22 years of directing airplanes at O'Hare. He has quickly produced a tell-all book, "Secrets from the Tower," published by Ithaca Press.
Richards recounts incidents on the airfield that scared him half to death, made him cuss or laugh until it hurt. Sept. 11, 2001, reinforced the responsibility and pride controllers feel over their job safeguarding the flying public. It's not the kind of chatter that an airline passenger will hear while listening to Channel 9, the air-traffic control channel, on board a plane.
Richards, who worked at Palwaukee Municipal Airport in Wheeling before moving up to the big leagues of air-traffic control, also shares his low points in O'Hare tower. The worst day was on Jan. 20, 1992. It was shortly after 12 p.m. -- called the "noon balloon" because of the big jump in flight activity that occurs -- while Richards was directing departures on four different runways simultaneously.
He innocently transposed some numbers in his verbal instructions to an aircraft, sending the United Airlines jet on the wrong heading. His operational error put three planes on a collision course leading, fortunately, only to a dramatic near miss. "I had just missed taking out three different airplanes and around five hundred people," he writes. "Now I was shaking uncontrollably, but still trying to control the situation."
In the almost militaristic bureaucracy of the Federal Aviation Administration, Richards was a rebel foot soldier who often tried to do things his way rather than follow orders. O'Hare managers didn't always approve, but delay-weary passengers may cheer his efforts.
In his book he tells of how he once bucked a rule prohibiting use of a special radio frequency except during emergencies. With all other frequencies in heavy use, Richards decided that the backlog of flights at O'Hare constituted a sufficient emergency meriting use of the special radio channel.
On another brutally busy night at the airport, Richards decided to ignore the standard rules governing FAA radio phraseology in communications to cockpits. He strongly exhorted more hustle on the part of pilots taxiing in a line of planes waiting to take off in the narrow gaps of airspace between planes landing on the same runway. As a result, the airport's hourly rate of flights improved. Richards' hurry-up attitude led to what is known as the "Pete Rose departure," a reference to the former Cincinnati Reds baseball star nicknamed "Charlie Hustle."
As only someone who has hung up their radio headset for the last time could do, the controller-turned-author also takes some serious shots at former O'Hare tower bosses and at high-ranking FAA officials.
But Richards is no easier on himself. He comes clean about his years of dependence on prescription painkillers and alcohol, leaving readers to wonder how he was still able to handle the rapid-fire action of planes taking off and landing at O'Hare and how he kept his alcohol and drug abuse a secret from the FAA. "Controllers are like vampires and love the late night," Richards writes. "Alcohol was their blood, and I was soon caught up with the whole idea that Count Dracula was everywhere."
Richards also shares the turbulence he went through in his marriage, as well as chronicling some of the other women who wandered across his radar screen over the years.
The book really is as much about Richards' personal journey. Through his own voice, which is not in the style of a professional writer, he nonetheless sketches a drawing of himself: a complex individual coping the best way he can with a high-pressure job and lifestyle.
"People need to become more positive -- it's really not that hard if we try," said Richards, 50, who lives in LaGrange. "That's why I wrote the book. I also wanted my kids to understand what my life was like and to give them a sense of what to do and what not to do."
He closes the book on an equally serious note, offering his top 10 list on how to save the airlines from financial ruin. But humor is his traveling companion for most of the book.
He wrote a chapter titled "Yahoo Mexicana," which loudly echoes the complaints of many O'Hare controllers about the general unpredictability and inexperience of pilots flying into Chicago for Mexicana Airlines. It's not unusual for Mexicana pilots, many speaking broken English and unable to keep up with the rat-tat-tat of radio communications, to take a wrong turn and get lost on the airfield, the controllers say.
Richards recounts in the book an incident when a Mexicana plane roamed more than even the airline's normal custom looking for the assigned parking gate. It was 2 a.m. and there was no other traffic on the airfield, so Richards and a fellow controller just watched "awestruck."
"Many foreign pilots in this situation would ask for directions [from the tower], but we had come across the ones too proud to do so," he writes.
Finally, Richards offered help and the pilot responded: "Buenos dias, amigo. I think me need progressive [turn-by-turn instructions] to the gate."
Richards provided direction, ending his verbal instructions with a crisp "Buenos nachos."
"Till the day I retired, I said 'Buenos nachos' to every Mexicana pilot," Richards writes. "Many came back laughing, but mostly all felt relaxed, knowing Americans were just as capable at making simple mistakes."
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