Circle, But How?

Halfway down the takeoff roll, I spotted the Seminole turning base for runway 27


Last night I took off from runway 9 when an airplane was turning base for runway 27, forcing a go-around to save the situation. How could I have made such an egregious error? Quite easily, Im afraid.

Now I can readily appreciate how some of those mid-air collisions at non-towered airports (or airports after the tower closes).

I am a 200-hour pilot and was out getting some night experience at an unfamiliar airport. The AWOS reported the winds were calm, so I had my choice of runway 9 or 27. The airports calm wind runway was runway 9 and an airplane had just taken off on 9, so I thought I would stay with the flow.

I taxied to the end of the runway and was conducting my runup when another airplane called in from four miles out, reporting inbound on the localizer for runway 9. Just as I completed the runup, the airplane reported a two mile final. I announced I was ready to go but would hold short for landing traffic.

Instead of landing, the inbound airplane took off on what I guessed was a missed approach or some other type of go-around. I kept waiting and looking for him, but never did catch sight of him again, despite turning the airplane 360 degrees to scan the sky.

While I was looking, I heard a Seminole announce he was circling south of runway 27. At least thats the way I heard it. I replied that I was holding short of runway 9, planning a left downwind departure.

I waited about 30 seconds to verify that no other traffic was around, especially that traffic that had been inbound a few minutes earlier. The Seminole then repeated that he was circling south of runway 27.

I thought, good, hes south of the runway doing whatever IFR maneuver hes doing and I will be departing north of the airport. I concluded the coast was clear for me to depart.

I announced that I was entering runway 9 for immediate takeoff and began my roll. Halfway down the takeoff roll, I spotted the Seminole. It had just turned base for runway 27 and announced it was going around, concluding with a sarcastic thank you. Only then did I realize what had just happened.

I think two seemingly insignificant errors of communication occurred.First, the more experienced local pilot was not using standard phraseology when he reported circling south of runway 27. To me, that was meaningless.

For all I knew it was an IFR maneuver, perhaps a holding pattern used to set up another approach to runway 9. If he had reported left downwind, runway 27 it would have been instantly understood that he was inbound for landing.

The other error was mine. Since I had no idea what the other airplane was doing other than circling south, I should have asked. Why didnt I?

The only thing I can think of is that I just didnt know how to ask. Perhaps Seminole circling south, say intentions.

Only when I had a chance to think about this incident did I come up with a reasonable way to ask. Questions like that should be part of every pilots vocabulary.


Whered He Come From?
I was instructing an instrument pupil in a Cessna 172 a few miles south of Arlington, Wash. We were heading north at a steady 3,000 feet, constant speed and heading, when a Piper Cherokee appeared on a descending path that put him directly in front of us, crossing from east to west. We got within 40 to 50 feet of each other.

I doubt if he even saw us, as his wing was in the way. He appeared from over our high wing too quickly for us to react.

I later learned that the radar coverage in that area was weak, and gave up flying around there unless forced to. Being under air traffic control is not a guarantee that the radar will help the controller see you or other aircraft nearby.


Heading for the Weeds
I work at my local airport for a major airline. Ive been learning to fly the last few months, and one day I decided to take the Cessna 172R out for a few takeoffs and landings.

After my preflight, I taxied out to runway 3, completed my engine runup and checklist. After a good takeoff I announced on the radio that I would be staying in closed traffic. After a pretty good landing (by my standards), I taxied back to the active runway for takeoff.

As I pushed the throttle in, the plane started its roll. I hadnt gone 50 feet down the runway when the airplane was trying to take off and was also making a beeline for the left side of the runway. I immediately yanked off the power and regained control of the airplane.

If I had read the before-takeoff checklist, I would have noticed that I had forgotten to retract the flaps after landing. It was a scary feeling for a student pilot, and it could have been totally avoided if I had just followed the checklist. After all, thats why its there.


Two Choices, Both Wrong
I knew I was in big trouble when the aircraft acted differently than I had been taught it would ever act.

I was an instructor at a flight school in Eden Prairie, Minn. The recession of the 90s was in full swing by February 1992 and I had been employed there for four months. I had maybe three full-time students and my paychecks averaged $80 every two weeks. I was married with a five-year-old daughter and was forced to hold down a night job at Target to help pay the bills.

I had just dropped off my wife and daughter. My wife insisted that I find something better to do at the airport than sitting around waiting for a student to show up. The weather was low, however, and I knew thered be no VFR students out today.

Desperate for flight time (and therefore pay), I had heard about a possible rescue mission to pick up two Piper Tomahawks that were used for traffic reporting but were stranded away from Eden Prairie, where they were based. When I mentioned to the guy who was trying to retrieve the airplanes that it was practically IFR, his response was that all we needed was for the controller to call out the initial approach fix for us.

Wed then be able to fly the localizer in.

He certainly was motivated to get the airplanes back to Flying Cloud Airport because he was one of the pilots who had flown into Crystal Airport that morning due to instrument conditions. The flight school wanted the airplanes back so they could fly traffic patrol during rush hour the next morning.

I knew Mike was planning to scud-run from one airport to the next, a flight that typically took about 25 minutes. The other choice, to fly in the clouds, didnt seem too smart because of the potential for icing.

I wasnt very familiar with the topography, so I was leery of scud-running, but Mike convinced me we could fly in loose formation back to Flying Cloud. I reluctantly agreed.

Mike took off before me and I couldnt find him after I was airborne. As I searched in vain for him, I got into the clouds. In my mind, there was only one thing to do: I called and got an IFR clearance for the flight.

Shortly thereafter, I began to hear ice forming on the airplane. I began to chew my gum very fast and tried to determine how far I had to go. With no DME it was difficult, but the controller told me I was about halfway there.

I climbed and pressed on. The carb heat was on and the defroster was blowing full-tilt. Then the power started to drop, so I applied full throttle and that seemed to help.

The controller gave me a vector to the final approach course and I was able to intercept and hold the localizer fairly well. My problem was that it was getting difficult to hold altitude.

The controller gave me an altitude alert, and I simply turned off the Mode C. That made him anxiously query my altitude, saying I might be low. I turned the Mode C back on. I think the controller might have thought I had crashed.

I am fairly sure he was angry with me because he had only reluctantly agreed to call out the IAF for me. Perhaps he knew the airplane was not capable of flying safely in these conditions.

At about this point, I began to experience behavior from the airplane I could not decipher. I was more concerned about airspeed than altitude, but when I lowered the nose the airframe began to vibrate. I was trapped between the stall and this unexplained vibration.(Seven years and 2,000 hours later, I was a charter pilot doing some required reading and realized I was experiencing tail-plane stalls from ice collection on the Tomahawk.)

I broke out at about 1,500 agl and discovered that the erratic handling was complicated by the fact that the windshield was completely iced over. I had to yaw the airplane in order to see the runway.

I knew there was no way to land this aircraft under these conditions, but it wasnt going to fly much longer.

As luck would have it, the ice on the windshield slowly began to melt. I searched for the runway and, after what seemed like an eternity, the runway came into view.

I decided to fly final at 100 knots because the airplane seemed stable at that speed. I didnt want to stall short of the field and figured Id probably use the entire 4,000-foot runway. I managed to touch down about halfway down the runway and make the very last turnoff.

It took me years to overcome this flight from hell and the stinging fact that everyone at the school became intimately familiar with how Id managed to cover the airplane with ice. I should have known better, and I paid the price.

The next day my relationship with the flight school was officially dissolved, and on more than one occasion over the next few years I was reminded of this embarrassing incident.

I have always felt that I came closer to crashing on that day than any other.


This Songs No Fun
I had just taken off in my 1965 Twin Comanche and had climbed to about 50 feet agl when suddenly the aircraft began pitching up.

I knew I had set the trim to the takeoff position during my runup. I began applying nose-down trim with the electric trim, but got no results. As I went for the manual trim crank, I saw that the overhead crank was rotating on its own to full nose-up trim. I could not turn it in the opposite direction; I couldnt even stop it.

In order to maintain even near-level flight (still climbing a bit) took all my strength with both hands. Fortunately I was not alone that day. My passenger was also a pilot and was familiar with the aircraft. He pulled the circuit breaker – which happened to be out of my reach in a floor access panel anyway.

I dont think I could have held the nose down much longer. My arms had already begun to quiver from the combination of strain and fear. If I had let go of the yoke to find the circuit breaker on my own, the airplane surely would have stalled first.

Once the breaker was pulled, the manual crank operated normally and the airplane could be brought under control.

The Twin Comanche and many other airplanes have an accordion-style wire from the panel to the control yoke for the electric trim and push-to-talk switch. This wire had become old and brittle and the insulation had cracked, short-circuiting the wire.

Coiled wires can hide an imminent failure. Make sure you inspect them regularly, and if something becomes intermittent that might be the first place to look.


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