Editor's Log

July 2001 Issue




This Ain’t Horseshoes

Close call on the runway didn’t count this time, but it sure could have

On a gorgeous VFR day, the occupants of two airplanes never knew how close they came to having their days ruined. I watched it happen.

It was time for my biennial flight review, so my instructor and I loaded up the Citabria (sans parachutes) for some airwork in the boonies west of Orlando. Then we flew north to Leesburg, an uncontrolled airport with intersecting runways. Winds were light and there was a thin layer of cumulus that started at about 2,700 feet and went up to about 4,000.

Traffic was using runway 13, and there are lakes at both ends of the runway. It’s usually a quiet little airport, although occasionally there are trainers around shooting touch-and-goes or NDB approaches.

We were in the pattern with three other airplanes. One was practicing landings and the other was heading for a full stop. Also operating nearby, according to the CTAF, was an airplane practicing the NDB approach and another practicing holds over the NDB at 4,000 feet.

It was the kind of day when everyone was using perfect manners. Calls were clean, courtesy apparent and eyeballs were open.

As the Apache on the NDB approach neared the airport, he was rapidly overtaking me. We agreed on what each of us would do, and I turned my attention to the Cessna I was following, which was turning from left downwind to base.

A Learjet eight miles out called for a straight-in approach to 13. The pilot asked “any traffic in the pattern please advise.” The Cessna ahead of me called in. So did I.

Suddenly a medium twin appeared on short final, apparently having flown a close base under the traffic on downwind. As he crossed the edge of the lake at about 50 feet agl, I could see the Lear halfway across the lake, closing the distance fast between himself and the mystery twin.

The twin cleared the runway before the Lear touched down. There was no immediate sigh of relief and no “ohmygoddidyouseethat?” My instructor and I looked at each other (as well as you can in a tandem-seat airplane) and wondered aloud that it wouldn’t have taken much to have a very different end to the story.

The twin’s lack of communication was troubling, as it obviously was not the kind of airplane that goes NORDO too often. The Lear’s decision to fly a straight-in with multiple airplanes in the pattern is perhaps typical, but not very welcome.

The Aztec flying the NDB used the radio, but his low approach could have spelled disaster if the Lear had gone around because of the twin on the runway.

Sometimes we wonder why non-towered fields are called “uncontrolled.” Other times it’s readily apparent.


-Ken Ibold