Category Archives: Pilot Training

Class B: Inside or Out, Be Aware of Invisible Lines in the Sky

Class B PWKClass B airspace is a three-dimensional sculpture defined by invisible lines of altitudes and radial distances from the airport that anchors this funnel of protected airspace to the ground. In our case, that’s Chicago O’Hare International. Before the advent of moving map technology that, if enabled, makes these boundaries visible, pilots had to keep close track of their position relative to them. Apparently, technology has not solved the Class B incursion and excursion problem. If it had, would the FAA have issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO 17001) dedicated to this issue?

Chicago Exec is tucked into a Class B notch in ORD’s 10-mile ring. It’s like an attic bedroom, with narrow walls that angle toward a narrow ceiling just 3,000 feet above the ground. Considering the number of aircraft the share this small alcove, and the speed at which they fly, it’s not a lot a room, especially when Mother Nature is in a meteorological mood. Making aviator awareness of aircraft position even more important are the winged behemoths above the line that are descending toward O’Hare.

The SAFO addresses both Class B incursions and excursions. Not singling out any specific Class B airspace, it says that some instrument approaches that take an airplane operating in Class B across the line, and then back in. Other excursions occur when pilots sink, for a moment, below a glide path that scrapes the floor of that Class B layer. If there’s another airplane outside of the Class B that’s crowding the boundary altitude, or if either airplane hasn’t accurately set its altimeter, bad things can happen. If they are lucky, they will escape with Near Mid Air Collision (NMAC) and the resulting increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Now pilots know that they need clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC) to enter Class B airspace, and it’s the controllers job to keep airplanes in Class B airspace from inadvertent meetings. And they do a world-class job of it. But they may not be working airplanes on the other side of the line. When these dedicated pros get busy, which means a heavy load of traffic, the SAFO explained, ATC may give an airplane instructions that will take it across the line, which is why pilots must always know where they are relative to that boundary. Why? Because “they may not be advised of such an event during times of high controller workload.”

And if ATC is busy, the chances of aircraft outside Class B getting flight following are nonexistent to not good. In other words, it behooves pilots on both sides of the line to not only know where they are relative to it, but to also keep their eyes open and searching and not depend on ATC to find and call out the traffic for them.

The SAFO recommends that pilots review and brief the Class B boundaries when their flight will be in or near it. And they should compare those boundaries to the instrument approaches they might fly and where they are relative to the Class B airspace. Whether the approach begins just below or just above the floor of a Class B layer, think of it as scud running through a maze, a situation in which there is little or no room for error, especially when following ATC vectors. Pilots should always be aware of their position relative to the maze’s vertical and horizontal invisible lines and redouble their see & avoid scan when they get close to either side of the line.

Residents Turn to PWK as Drone Resource

drone 2Every holiday season is busy, for everyone these days. This year, 2015, opened a door into a new world of safety concerns for everyone who operates at Chicago Executive airport.

A few weeks before Christmas, as sales projections for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones as most of us call them, indicated more than a million of these little buzzers might find their way under Christmas trees around the U.S., aviation-industry thinking began to realize that many of those drones would soon be operated by people who knew next to nothing about the aviation industry. The airspace above everyone’s is very well organized to ensure that every aircraft in the sky, does so safely. But how could we talk to new drone operators and tell them that their drone might end up becoming a nuisance to aircraft, at best, or a hazard at worst, much the way the hazardous use of laser pointers has increased the past five year?

The airport management team at Chicago Executive airport, as well as the Board of Directors, decided to preempt the potential for a collision between a drone and an airplane by creating a public education campaign to inform users of the dangers their vehicles could create should they be flying within five miles of any airport, but specifically around PWK. The information we’ve gathered over the past month has formed the basis of the airport’s new Drone Resource page where users will find useful links to FAA documents, safety-training videos and organizations that support the drone industry.  We were pleased the Daily Herald thought enough of our recent efforts to run a front page story about drones on Christmas Eve. People can subscribe to airport updates on the resource page that will include fresh information about drones as soon as we receive it.

logo w-website drones small

The airport doesn’t want to restrict anyone’s use of a new UAV. In fact, we don’t have such authority anyway. But we would like this new class of aviators to realize the safety of everyone on board a manned aircraft could be threatened when people operate drones irresponsibly, especially near an airport.

We’d like to urge anyone operating, or thinking about operating a drone, to take a look at our new resource page, or pass this link along to anyone in the community they think might benefit from better understanding the safety issues surrounding a potential mix-up of UAVs and airplanes. Of course we’re also here to answer your questions about how drones fit into the world these days. You’ll find all the contact information you need on our Drone Resource page.



Drone Course Offers PWK Pilots New Opportunities

Vortex Drone session, 5/30/15 at Atlantic Aviation, PWK.

Vortex drone demonstration by Vortex UAS at Atlantic Aviation, PWK

From the EditorsWelcome to the first edition of the airport newsletter in a digital form. Our goal is to bring you interesting stories about KPWK on a bi-weekly basis that can be easily read in the format more and more people tell us they want.

Best of all, there’s no need for you to keep wondering when they next story runs because a free subscription will bring a notice directly to your inbox. You’ll find subscription details on the right side of this blog page.

So let us know what you think. And don’t hesitate to send us your ideas for people, events or those stories you’ve noticed around the airport that that no one else has.

Did we mention photos too for us to post? Send them to



The notice that Vortex UAS was going to hold an introductory course for drone pilots at Atlantic Aviation on Chicago Executive Airport confused some and concerned others.

Vince Donohue, a corporate pilot and president of Vortex UAS efficiently explained that as the rules exist today, to be used for commercial, for-hire purposes, a drone must be operated by an FAA certificated pilot.

Nodding toward his multi-rotor and fixed wing drones on the table, Donohue said their operation had little in common with the aircraft the half-dozen pilots in the course flew. But drones are aircraft that operate in the National Airspace System, and the participants’ pilot certification demonstrated their knowledge of FAA regulations—and first-hand experience—of operating in it.

The educational goal of the 4-hour course was to introduce the pilots to the growing aviation opportunities drones represent. The participants were evenly divided between recent and just-about-to-graduate collegiate aviators and veterans a generation older. Donohue explained the history of drones, the elements of unmanned aerial vehicles, and the components of an unmanned aircraft system, which includes the ground control station.

Addressing the legal landscape, Donohue said commercial drone operations exist today, work under case-by-case approvals, which his company will soon receive from the FAA. Flying them is a part-time opportunity, but that will change significantly when the FAA issues the final drone operating rules in the next year or so.

Before addressing current drone technology, their capabilities, and coming career opportunities, Donohue demonstrated the precise control of two camera-equipped multi-rotor drones in an adjacent hangar. One of them barely filled his hand. In the classroom, videos demonstrated a number of drone applications that shared the safe and economical flight of various sensors that accomplish hundreds of different missions.

Vortex UAS has three missions, Donohue said, training pilots to operate drones, to facilitate commercial drone missions, and to advocate for their safe and efficient integration into aviation. As it does in other industries and aspects of aviation, success in the infant drone industry hinges on the unified employment of knowledge and skills, networking, and experience, said Donohue. Vortex UAS offers all three, with expanding opportunities now that the company has earned its 333 exemption from the FAA.

Vortex’s next drone pilot class begins at KPWK on September 19. More information’s available at the VortexUAS training site.

A Blog Means Airport News

blogWelcome to Chicago Executive Airport’s new blog.

For people new to this sort of communication, a blog is a local online newspaper of sorts. This one just happens to be for and about Chicago Executive airport, also known as PWK to pilots. Over the coming months, we’ll publish stories that explain why the airport exists and what owning it means for the communities of Wheeling and Prospect Heights that jointly own the place.

Our goals here, in alphabetical order, are to educate, entertain, and inform you about all aspects of the airport and the communities it serves. One measure of our success will be your level of surprise, as in, “Gee, I didn’t know that!” The most interesting part of a blog is that it’s a two-way street. If you like what you see here, you’ll be able to comment. And if you don’t like what you see or read, you can still comment … as long as your language doesn’t become offensive of course.

Introducing members of Chicago Exec’s extended family to each other is one of our driving forces with this venture because it fosters an appreciation of the people who contribute to the success of the airport, whether they work on the airport or live and work in the local community.PWK Race 2015

We believe that no endeavor is insignificant. Cutting the grass may seem like nothing more than a seasonal task; but how many people even appreciate what contribution the height of the grass plays in the airport’s wildlife management plan? Or what about the training required to drive in the airport’s operations area? What kinds of people work in the control tower and what exactly do they do there? What about the local firefighters and police who work the airport? Certainly you must have questions about what happens on the airport, so e-mail them to us and we’ll do our best to answer.

While we all work hard at PWK, we also believe in having a little fun along the way, like our 5K Run the Runway race last week, or that same evening’s community entertainment topped off with our first ever fireworks show.

We’ve made it easy for you to follow what happens at the airport too. In the gray column way over to the right of this story, you’ll see our subscribe icon. Just type in your e-mail and we’ll add you to our mailing list. Then every few weeks when we post a new story, you’ll be able to read them, as well as comments if you choose. You can also follow us on Facebook at: pwkairport and on Twitter @pwkchiexec

You can always reach me at

Thanks for reading. 

Rob Mark, Airport Communications