April 14, 2011
Follow me on Twitter


Listen to this air traffic control tape of a recent emergency in New Orleans.

A United Airbus A320 takes off, heading for San Francisco. Four minutes after takeoff, the pilot reports smoke in the cockpit.

7:11:35 UA 497: We need to vector back to the airport, we got a smoke issue with the airplane.

The controller doesn't miss a beat, even though those words just changed everything.

Turn right 030 (degrees) and maintain 4,000 (feet).

And just like that, the next four minutes are calm and collected. The pilot asks for the longest runway. There are all sorts of repair trucks all over that runway, so we start a second discussion with them. The pilot reports that the instruments are all out and he’s going to need landing instructions from the ground; he does this with perfect calm.

United turn left heading, 20 degrees left.

Just continue left turn. I'll tell you when to stop.

Incredibly impressive. (Thanks, James Fallows, who has returned from his book writing adventure. The roster of guest-bloggers covering his 10-week hiatus is fascinating; this might make a good magazine!)