Hornets Nest


I recently flew a friend from my house at a residential airpark outside Sarasota, Fla., up to the Tampa International Airport to catch his plane home. We left with fuel tanks about half-full, and I planned to divert a few miles on my way home to stop at a non-towered airport with ultra-cheap self-serve 100LL to top off.

After an uneventful stop, drop and hop, I motored off toward the cheap fuel and dialed up the airports CTAF (which also happens to be the CTAF for my nearby home runway). I was immediately greeted with a cacophony of radio calls involving a couple of Cessnas, at least one CAP flight and a Twin Comanche. All were apparently maneuvering to land or depart from Cheap Fuel Muni, but no one was happy.


I really couldnt determine who was landing and who was departing, but the Twin Comanche driver was definitely hot about going around after being cut off in the pattern. Since I dont need much encouragement to avoid chaos in a traffic pattern, I changed plans and went on home.

What ultimately turned me off about going over there that morning was the continuing discussion about who was where, who was in the wrong and what was going to happen next. Timely, concise communication in the pattern is necessary. But what I heard was neither. And I got to listen to it all the way home.

It reminded me of a recent flight to a different but nearby airport. Inbound from the north, I maneuvered to enter left traffic for Runway 4 as a 182 announced five south on the GPS approach. Keeping everyone apprised of his progress, just as I was doing, he ultimately crossed over the moderately busy airport at about 700 feet AGL to enter the pattern ahead of and below me. Then he began complaining about the plane ahead, a dual-instruction flight, which he was overtaking. Anticipating all this, I was already in hover mode and extended my downwind leg behind the 182. Sure enough, the 182 went around, complaining all the while about the “slow” plane ahead of him. I landed without additional drama.

Putting aside the fact we all need to get better at the simple task of flying a traffic pattern, we also need to accept not everyone is flying an airplane with the same performance and with the same skill.

Traffic patterns at non-towered airports-by definition-involve a wide range of aircraft and pilot performance levels. More of us need to understand and plan for that, then accept we wont always land after a drama-free arrival and pattern. Also, when something frustrating happens in the pattern, its not a good reason to “go off” on the other guy. If you feel the need to seek answers, do it on the ground once everyones props have stopped turning.

– Jeb Burnside


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