Do Earthquakes Affect an Aircraft Flying Above?
They sure do, and I experienced it once. It was pretty scary, too.
BLYTHEVILLE AFB CIRCA 1978
I was flying a VIP jet transport from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, to Blytheville Air Force Base, Arkansas to pick up someone, probably a member of Congress. It was night and there was a solid cloud overcast with a ceiling at about 3000 feet.
We were talking to and being vectored by approach control and inside the clouds we saw nothing but black—in those conditions, cockpit windows look like they’ve been painted black.
Suddenly, we broke out of the cloud base. Below them, it was crystal clear and we could see lights for many miles, including the runway lights and rotating beacon on the base. We reported to approach control that we had the airport in sight, we were cleared for a visual approach, and we turned toward the runway.
Just as suddenly as the lights had appeared, everything went black again.
When the windows went black again, we assumed we’d flown back into a cloud, so we called approach to tell them we’d lost the visual and wanted to continue vectors.
We then checked our position on our navigational instruments but noticed they had red flags on them, which meant that the ground signal had been lost.
We called again. No reply.
We then noticed our transponder wasn’t blinking anymore, which meant we weren’t being painted by radar.
We called again. No reply.
We began to ponder climbing and switching back to our last en route frequency but first we called again. No reply.
Just as I was about to change frequency, a very excited controller called us.
They’d just had a big earthquake, which knocked out all power. It had taken a couple of minutes to get running on their emergency backup, but he now had his radio working.
He asked us to orbit visually on our own while they got things up and running again. That was the scary part because we saw nothing but black.
We could only hope there wasn’t a tall antenna out there—now unlighted due to the power outage. We called him and he verified he didn’t have his radar back yet, but he knew the area well and we were in the clear at our altitude. We continued to orbit—seeing nothing else in the whole world but the red glow from our flight instruments.
Finally the runway lights came back on. The controller then told us to continue to orbit while they sent some trucks down the runway to check for cracks.
A few minutes later we were told the runway was fine, so we finally went in visually and landed.
So, yes, earthquakes can absolutely affect pilots!
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