Disclaimer: Bill Hale Combat Veteran, Operations Specialist, serving between 1989-1994 veteran of the United States Navy. This article was written in 2018 regarding communications in the time-critical logistics industry and should not to be interpreted as political or social commentary related to current or past events.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to listen to the succinct communication between carrier operations and the aircraft in flight, it’s quite an experience. When a fighter jet is on approach and “in the groove” (i.e., 15-18 seconds to touchdown) to an aircraft carrier the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) onboard will say to the approaching aircraft, “Call the ball.”
He is asking for a couple of things, but primarily if the pilot can see the round orange "meatball" on the Optical Landing System (OLS). If he cannot see the ball for whatever reason, the pilot will transmit, “Clara.” This tells the LSO that the pilot is not receiving optical glide slope information, a situation that must be corrected by the pilot or LSO quickly. Otherwise, a wave-off is required, which equates to additional cost incurred in fuel, time, planning and even potential safety concerns.
Most all of the time though, the pilot will see the ball (and of course the related lighting system) and will note the orange ball's relation to the green horizontal datum lights. This will indicate if he is high, low, or on glide-slope.
In response to the LSO’s query to “Call the ball,” the pilot will answer by stating his side number, aircraft type, ‘ball,’ and fuel state (and qualification number if in training). It would most likely sound something like this:
Dallas two-two-one, Tomcat ball, five-point-seven.” This translates to: Dallas=VF-1's squadron call-sign, 221=the number on the side of the aircraft, Tomcat=F-14, ball=I see the ball, 5.7=5,700 pounds of fuel left.
Noting the information, the LSO would then respond, “Roger Ball.” The LSO would then only speak again if needed to correct some deviation… that in such a precision endeavor almost always happens.
“Ball” is short for "meatball.” Apocryphal or not, I am told the term meatball came from WW-II combat Naval Aviators. It seems that the round bright orange light on the early Optical landing system reminded them of the circular red markings on the Japanese Zero aircraft that they commonly referred to as meatballs. Even with the new advanced Fresnel lenses, it is not so round, but tradition says it is still… a ball.
Watching our group of critical logistics experts manage the day to day operations is very similar to flight operations on an aircraft carrier, where communication and accuracy are paramount. When dealing with mission-critical shipments 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, every shipment matters and transparent communication with stakeholders is critical. Unlike other sectors in transportation, we deal with shipments that mean life or death thousands of times per week.
If you think about FedEx’s old slogan, “When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight” you can bet that the Airspace slogan would read, “when it absolutely, positively has to be there TODAY.” Anytime you need to ship something that is time-critical, understand that it is an incredibly complex and well-managed operation that makes this happen. These shipments matter: may it be organs for procurement, diagnostic lab specimens that a critical patient is waiting, or a vital part needed to prevent an airplane from being out of service. For the team at Airspace, we know that each shipment is unique and most importantly, each package is time-definite to the quoted delivery time. The only options for us are next flight out service or an on-demand drive option, depending on the distance and time the shipment must be delivered.
Most airlines take relatively the same amount of time to reach their destination. This means you have many options when routing via air cargo. When a client uses next flight out logistics, they make sure your package hits the friendly skies as soon as possible. With the help of technology, it is possible to track every detail of the shipment, right from the point of pickup until the final delivery. Or, you can use technology to provide optimal routing options. We’ve built extremely sophisticated algorithms that take into consideration traffic, weather and even the average time our Airspace Commanders must spend at the airline cargo location. Furthermore, these Commanders and dropping pins (geocoded locations) at every point, so our system is speeding up with every delivery. Pretty cool, huh? We certainly think so.
Our tracking capabilities allow for real-time, automated alerts during the delivery process. This ensures that when rerouting is needed, it is done quickly and optimally to ensure shipments are not delayed. Once delivery has been accomplished, confirmation is available automatically through our proprietary online management tools or phone, fax, email, and text messages. Technology guarantees that there is a smooth and expedited shipment process when you need to get time-definite shipments to its destination as fast as possible.
If you want shipping solutions that are uniquely tailored to your business needs, you should work with a company that has invested millions in customizable technology. A shipping company with a modern approach to airfreight and time-critical solutions and experienced staff will ensure your deliveries are always made on time. That being said, we don’t consider ourselves as moving boxes. Whether it be an organ for transplant or aviation components needed for a downed aircraft, we understand that your shipments matter.
Call the ball. Roger, Ball! Mission complete.