My wife and I were driving home from a vacation in Louisiana over the holidays and as we passed through Paris, Texas I was reminded of the time I flew my Cessna T310R airplane from OKC to Paris in horrible weather, landed at the local airport around midnight, and climbed atop the Paris Regional Medical Center hospital to align a wireless antenna – in a thunderstorm.
Wireless Ethernet circa 2004
In 2004 I owned InTelemed. We provided medical image archives – PACS – and networking services to hospitals, imaging centers, and doctors located all across the midwest. We had just installed a wireless point-to-point Ethernet link between two recently-merged hospitals in Paris, Texas. While we handled all the electronics installation, the hospital maintenance people installed the wireless antennas on the roof of the hospital.
I got a call on a holiday weekend about three months after the install, saying the hospitals could not communicate. They had become dependent on the fast link but did not have a backup connection installed to transmit images. The person on call worked through the troubleshooting steps but could not determine the problem and was unable to bring the system back on-line.
Cessna Turbo 310R to the rescue
As the owner of the company, I got a call late on a Saturday night. Suspecting an antenna problem, I threw a ladder in the back of my twin-engine Cessna Turbo 310R and took off at night into some very unpleasant weather. My Cessna was well-equipped to handle bad weather. It had two engines, radar, autopilot, GPS navigation, and de-ice boots. Of course, I couldn’t fly into thunderstorms, but I could use my weather radar to navigate around the worst of the weather and arrived in Paris around midnight rain pelting the windshield and lightning off in the distance. Sounds like a fun time to climb on a hospital roof – NOT!
When I got to the hospital I was met by the IT folks, the radiology director, and a hospital maintenance person. I used my laptop to do some on-site troubleshooting and quickly determined that the hospital network was fine, but the signal could not reach the other hospital at all. I grabbed the maintenance person and we headed to the roof to take a look at the parabolic antenna they had installed.
Onto the roof – in the rain
As soon as I got on the roof and looked at the antenna I knew the problem. The antenna was pointing in the wrong direction! It seems the maintenance crew who installed the antenna had not secured it correctly. The parabolic antenna was mounted on a round pole, which was u-bolted to a concrete wall. But nothing was keeping the round pole from twisting inside the u-bolt mount. Strong winds from a passing storm and spun the antenna around 90 degrees from the other hospital so no communication was possible at all.
We re-aligned the antenna – in the rain, I might add – and this time secured some bolts through the pole to keep it from turning in the wind. As soon as we got the antenna aligned correctly and mounted properly, the site-to-site communications began working immediately – thank goodness. We finished up around 3 am. I grabbed a nap on a cot inside the hospital, woke up at daylight, went back to my airplane, flew home, and finished spending the holiday weekend with my family. They barely knew I was gone.
This was NOT a fun trip, but I was very thankful to have a fast, capable airplane that turned a 5.5-hour drive into a 45-minute flight.