Editor's Log

May 2000 Issue

Looking Out for No. 1

Assume responsibility for yourself, even if controllers are on the air

Recently another pilot and I were doing pattern work at a controlled airport. It was a weekday, and there was only one other airplane, a Cessna 152, in the pattern with us. It didn’t take long for us to start wondering what we were doing there.

The other airplane was flying left-hand patterns that would have accommodated the Concorde. The downwind leg was fully two miles from the runway. By the beginning of the base leg, the Cessna was at full flaps and lumbering along toward a two-mile final. The controller didn’t seem to notice.

After following this airplane for two patterns, we told the controller we were going to fly a tighter pattern for safety, and that we would make minimum speed to avoid overtaking. We hoped the other pilot would get the hint.

He didn’t, but the controller sure did. After our next takeoff, we were cleared to remain in right closed traffic and, for the rest of the hour, completed two trips around the pattern for every one the Cessna made. Only once did our traffic patterns conflict. Guess who got the 360? Wasn’t us.

That was one case where a heads-up controller made our day. Turns out there was an instructor and a student pilot on board the Cessna. Regardless of whether the instructor had financial motives for flying the wide pattern, he was not doing his student any favors – either from a financial standpoint or a safety standpoint.

Another recent flight also highlighted a serious safety issue in some parts of the country. We were leaving our home base, Orlando Executive, where a new flight school has recently opened with a large roster of foreign students.

On this particular flight, we were taxiing to the runway just as a solo student pilot came on ground frequency. While I believe in cutting students as much slack as possible (because we’ve all been there), this particular man’s command of English was so poor his communications were unintelligible. After asking him several times to repeat himself, the frustrated controller finally resorted to having him spell everything he was saying.

Think about how long it takes to say “charlie echo sierra sierra november alpha one seven two” and imagine what that did to the traffic flow. While in this case it didn’t affect us because we were on the ground, this pilot would soon be in the air, going to other airspace, and wreaking all sorts of unknown havoc.

These two incidents, as well as the recent spate of mid-airs, underscore the fact that you are not excused from your responsibility to be alert and vigilant just because there’s someone on the ground giving you occasional instructions over the radio.

-Ken Ibold