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Sun, Dec 23, 2007

Book Review: 'Secrets of the Tower'

by ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas

How about a little secret under the tree this holiday season? And, I don’t mean Victoria’s Secret. It’s Bob Richards “secret”.

Released in July of this year Secrets from the Tower is Richards inside look at Air Traffic Control from one of the busiest control towers; Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Richards opens his story with a near death experience he had a couple of years back and you’re hooked.

The aviation field was not where Richards saw himself when he was younger but spending ones childhood years living and playing under the approach path of O’Hare Airport can subconsciously have a profound affect on ones future plans. Chapters two through five were written by Richards when he was in eighth grade. Richards said “I had the idea to write a book as far back as I could remember.” Into adulthood, his focus changed and he wanted to write the book for his children, to satisfy their curiosity.
The early chapters naturally focus on Richards growing up; family, school, young love, partying “and just having fun by being incredibly stupid,” Richards writes (and sounds like the normal course of growing up).

Richards worked ATC from 1982 to 2007. He started at O’Hare in 1985. The years he worked were time enough to document the close ties with TRACON and the pilots at the beginning of his career. Over the course of the book the reader is lead into the fall of trust among the FAA, TRACON and tower personnel. Lots of finger pointing and bad management emerge from the story. Even Marion Blakey is not exempt from some finger pointing by Richards.

To relieve the daily stresses, practical jokes and teasing are the norm. When moving hundreds of aircraft during the course of a day stress relief is a necessity. One chapter is devoted to the friends/co-workers he lost at very young ages from heart attacks and cancer. Richards wonders why studies have not been done on the ATC career and stress and the illnesses that seem to accompany it. But that
is very likely another story. Richards leads an eventful life in the tower and away from his job. His encounters and adventures and even problems make for interesting reading. He talks about meeting then President Clinton. He presents issues such as the foreign carriers trouble understanding the rapid fire speak that is a must at O’Hare.

Richards talks about his ATC stint at Oshkosh Air Venture, “the all star game for Air Traffic Controllers” he writes. “One of my best times as an Air Traffic Controller,” Richards said in an interview. He made the All-Star team five years.

Richards also pulls no punches when he talks about losing his edge, sinking more into pills and alcohol which leads full circle to the hospital trip and near death experience.

The book includes Richards' 'Save the Airlines' Top Ten list. Richards has seen and experienced the problems from the inside and he offers suggestions on helping the airlines cut costs by improving the ATC system. One topic conspicuously absent from the book was the clandestine, illegal destruction of Meigs Field by Mayor Daley. You can’t be ATC and not know about it or have talked about it. Richards take on Daley’s act would have been appreciated.

More pages devoted to his time at Air Traffic School would have also been a nice touch. Anyone reading the book with thoughts of going into ATC, more on the Oklahoma City life might have been informative.

Any aviation fan can enjoy Richards humorous and sometimes serious tales. Since he carefully explains any aviation lingo for the layman, those outside of aviation are likely to find the book enjoyable as well. There is a chance, however, they won’t believe some of the things that happened.



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