Airway Pioneer Member
Robert J. Swain

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First let me say, to have been nominated to the Society of Airway Pioneers is a singular event for me. I see many of the legends that I have known that are now members and I do not feel qualified to stand beside any of them. As a pilot, that was allowed to participate with the deliberations of determining the changes (and some improvements) to not only our nations airways system but those of the world; I am, and always have been, amazed that these experts of the airways would actually listen to my opinions. But then I am still amazed that no one ever discovered that I really did not know how to fly. I spent 33 years with United airlines expecting to be exposed at my next check ride.

Maybe I should tell you about how all this came to be.
After graduation from Texas A&M in 1962, I reported to Fort Benning as the Army's newest Second Lieutenant. It only took a month or two to hear two Officers, in CBR Warfare school, tell me of their last maneuvers, spent in a hotel room with a tub full of beer and parties every night while I slept on the ground in the middle of no-where, in a torrential downpour. $150 per month flight pay convinced me that there was a better life. Their last advice was to pass up fix wing and go to Helicopter School. I would always be able to go fixed wing. I still don't know, if they went away laughing or were sincere in this piece of bad advice.

Fort Wolters for Basic, and Fort Rucker for Advanced, qualified me in the Hiller H-23, Sikorsky H-34, and the UH-1. Mine was the first class to go through gunnery school in the UH-1. Of the 159 Members of my class, we graduated only 53. They washed out many good pilots but it seems the class was to big to accommodate following classes, so somebody had to go. This led to my life long mantra, "I'll take luck over skill any day." It also taught me that "timing is everything", and what the "needs of the service" really means.

My first year was flying as ADC to two generals in Korea. My first Boss (The most decorated man in the Pacific) was a reincarnation of Patton who allowed me to have the experience of saying "NO" to a general officer. He had a habit of indicating he wanted to land directly below us, then jumping up and down in his seat till I finished setting up a normal landing. One day with a strong headwind he indicated he wanted to land near some troops that had just passed below us. I performed a back-up auto-rotation. After touchdown, he did not say a word, only looked at me a couple of seconds. He never jumped up and down again. As a parting "Favor" he got me assigned to the 11th Air Assault Div; the only place I did not want to go. For a few months I was Troop Commander of the Air Cavalry Troop at Fort Lewis. This was good experience as I went to A Troop First cavalry Div in Vietnam from there. Six months of "Guns" and six months of "Lift." "Guns" is safer.

Remember "Rat Patrol" on TV, well the Air Cavalry was the same mission, only done with helicopters. If you hadn't been shot at before breakfast, it was a quiet day. I did manage to marry one of the Continental Hostesses from the flight over. Then got myself wounded so I was able to spend a month with her at Clark Airbase. Things men will do.

Pan Am said they would hire me when I got back, but things had changed and Pan Am never hired again. United and Northwest did though, and I chose United for stability. Boy did I get stability, for my whole career, until I retired and they declared bankruptcy.
During the 33 years at UAL I flew or plumbed the DC-8, B-727, 737, 757, 767, 777. I did get paid for the B-747 for the last 15 months.

At about the age of 50 I realized that when I turned sixty UAL just might not pay me my retirement and then where would I be. A point A to point B pilot has little value to anyone at that point so I contacted Ward Baker who was working for ALPA as a staff engineer. I offered to be his "Pilot in Washington" as their would be little flight pay loss (read None) and very little expenses. It was a good match as it was cheaper to send me to the high level meetings in Washington than import the ATC Committee Chairman or another more knowledgeable pilot. I did this about five years and was never given a position on the committee, but allowed to continue as a "Friend of the Committee." Ken Peppard, Frank Sweeney, Rocky Stone Ward Baker and myself spent two years creating the TCAS in-trail climb procedure that became an operational trial in the Pacific for ten years until it was discontinued in favor of ADS-B in-trail climb. It wasn't used nearly as often as it should have been, but when it was, it saved carriers hundreds of thousands of dollars. I volunteered to also work the ALPA Accident Survival Committee as Vice Chairman and would have probably stayed there, as the work was interesting and satisfying.

One morning Ward Baker called and asked me if I would consider being the Regional Vice-President for the North Atlantic for the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations. I had to admit the being an "Officer of the Federation" had a Star Trek ring to it. Before I knew it I was a member of ten North Atlantic Groups and traveling constantly. My first shock was a NAT Mathematicians Working group meeting in London. I thought, if my algebra teacher could see me now he would turn over in his grave. Later I found that he was still alive and he took great joy in hearing the story of my exploits with the mathematicians. Ward told me that I would soon understand acronyms like RVSM (reduced vertical separation minimum). I did not know that it would become a dominating force in my life. I arrived just in time to put my brand on RVSM as it was in the last year prior to implementation in the North Atlantic. Two weeks before implementation Duane Worth (ALPA President) called me in and asked if statements being made about potential chaos being created by multiple TCAS Resolution Advisories would come true. I assured him that they would not. Had I said otherwise, I am quite sure that he would have pulled the plug. Not one RA occurred in RVSM airspace during the first year!
No good deed goes unpunished. RVSM virtually doubled the capacity in the NAT, but contributed to two unforeseen (by others) issues. Wake turbulence and TCAS nuisance traffic alerts. The FAA had assured the NAT that wake turbulence would dissipate 900 feet below the lead aircraft. I assured them that with no math, no charts or graphs, just experience, that it would affect aircraft 1,000 feet below. What we did not know was that aircraft directly on top of each other would get repeated traffic alerts as the aircraft shifted positions relative to each other. (wind, temperature differences etc.) I suggested a 15-second separation be applied by one of the pilots to give them two miles separation. Canada refused to allow an aircraft to deviate from the assigned mach long enough to accomplish this.(two years later Canada asked to do this and the UK then refused as it would confuse their FDPS and now we use "no mach" in the Pacific). Instead we came up with a wake turbulence procedure which allowed a two NM. offset either side of centerline. Pilot was required to report it but received no clearance.

ICAO RGCSP, responding to pilots in various parts of the world applying offsets without any guidance, proposed a procedure that we in the NAT Math Groups knew would be unsafe. A committee that ended up being Dave Maloy of the FAA and I was tasked with creating a correct procedure. In one afternoon in Ayr, Scotland, we through out that which we new would not work and were left with what would. We originally called it the Random Offset Procedure, but the Air Traffic Managers Group felt it sounded unprofessional to use random. Instead, it was agreed to call it the Strategic Lateral Offset Procedure, which sounded much more professional. Later when put in practice it became known as SLOP. The real need for SLOP was the incredible accuracy we had created with RVSM and GPS. Aircraft were literally flying though a tube with a 30 foot diameter. Any operational error (barring TCAS) would create a disaster. It had become a necessity to introduce some randomness back into the system. ICAO, the North Atlantic and the Pacific have adopted this procedure. It allows aircraft to offset 0, 1, 2 NMs right of course which provides the randomness and solutions for wake turbulence. The controller is not involved and I obtained an Exception from ICAO for an aircraft to not fly centerline without reporting it to ATC. TCAS Version 7 was created that changed the algorithms to allow aircraft level within 1,000 feet to not trigger traffic alerts.

Retiring from United created an opportunity for the FAA to use my Oceanic and in particular RVSM experience. Roy Grimes hired me as his replacement and together we ran the Domestic RVSM Program. I got to stick around for the highly acclaimed successful implementation and take most if not all of the credit Roy so richly deserved. Timing is everything. The Administrator stated on several occasions that DRVSM was probably the most successful program the FAA had ever accomplished.

To make sure that I would have no more success, I was appointed as the United States Member to the ICAO separation and Airspace Safety Panel (formerly RGCSP).
In my spare time I helped create the operational trial using RNP 4 (Oceanic) and 30 lateral and Longitudinal separation. The trial has been running a year and is delayed going operational due to Datalink surveillance and communication issues with SITA's Ground Earth Station in Perth.

As we shrink separation standards contingency procedures become an ever-increasing problem. Any suggestions?

I retired from the FAA Dec. 31, 2006

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