I have been flying for 19 years and now fly corporate/mission operations overseas. The overseas operations, which I have done for six years, have provided many excellent learning opportunities – as well as some scary moments.
Last week we were returning from an international, operating our Twin Cessna in and out of marginal VFR/IFR conditions.
When descending for the main international airport it is always imperative to monitor every transmission. This is doubly true in developing countries. Although this particular airport is an international airport, the radar operates perhaps 30 percent of the time and ATC uses broken English and fluent French. In many instances there are two and sometimes three languages operating in the pattern simultaneously.
In this case we were operating in the terminal area with three other international air carriers, all descending for approach. Due to conditions we were all being issued expect further clearance times for the IAF.
We were number 1 for the approach and our approach speed of 120 knots didnt fit well with the heavy iron behind us. During our descent, the field came into clear visual view and I asked the co-pilot to request the visual, thus eliminating the need to fly a DME arc and proceed 15 miles away from the airport before returning on the inbound course.
The controller responded immediately that we were cleared for the visual approach and instructed us to contact the tower. We switched frequencies and were cleared by the tower for landing. I made mention to my co-pilot that, with the heavy traffic, we needed to keep a very keen lookout for other airplanes.
Suddenly to our right appeared an Airbus 340, descending out of a broken layer on a collision course. I immediately contacted tower and confirmed that we were cleared for the visual and landing, as it appeared we were competing with an Airbus 340. There was a pause and the controller responded that we were in fact cleared, now number 2 behind the Airbus.
My co-pilot and I concluded that, had we not been monitoring the approach frequency carefully in the two languages, we would not have been aware of the other arriving air carriers and perhaps would not have been watching for traffic as closely.
Second, we observed that you can never assume the clearance issued by the controller is understood exactly the same by all parties involved, particularly when there are language barriers involved.
Finally, we were operating in marginal conditions, with other traffic, in airspace that was not covered by radar. We should not have expected to be controlled to the standard to which we are accustomed in the U.S. It would be prudent to proceed to the IAF for the approach as we had initially been cleared. By asking for the visual approach we threw a curve to an already maxed-out controller, who switched us off his frequency – and apparently switched us off his mind as well.
I recently took a student to Wauchula, Fla., to practice pattern work and takeoffs and landings. The wind was straight out of the east and, since runway 36 is longer due to the displaced threshold on 18, we landed on 36.
After we cleared the runway and started to taxi back to runway 36, I noticed another single-engine airplane taxiing to 18. As we were heading toward runway 36 another airplane also landed on runway 36. When we got to the hold short line for 36, an pilot announced that he was on left downwind for 36. I announced that we were going to depart on 36 and told my student to taxi out and line up the airplane on the centerline.
I then had him check the instruments and add power for takeoff. Runway 36 has a slight ridge in the center of the runway and you cannot see the other end of the runway until you are about halfway down the runway. Shortly after we started our takeoff roll, I noticed another aircraft taking off from the opposite direction. It had just become airborne and was only a foot or two off the runway. I immediately pulled the throttle out and turned the airplane to the right to get out of the way.
While all the other aircraft were talking on the radio and using runway 36, this airplane never said a word and may not have even had a radio on board. Furthermore that pilot chose to use runway 18 while everyone else was using 36.
If we had applied power a few seconds earlier, we would have had our nose pointed up at exactly the same time that pilot had that airplanes nose up. We would have met in the air and made a real mess of the airport.
I am sure the other airplane we heard on the CTAF, who said he was on left downwind for 36, was also surprised to see this airplane lift off of 18, since he was probably on base or final by the time the other airplane took off.
Lesson learned; if you see another aircraft taxiing to the opposite end of the runway, dont even think about taking off until you know for sure that the other airplane will not be a factor.
Other lessons to consider: The pilot of the offending airplane could also have been a hardnose who saw the winds as from 095 and therefore favoring 18. At uncontrolled fields pilots have the right to use whatever runway they want – although that cant excuse rudeness or a poor safety attitude. Wauchulas runway is more than adequate in either direction for most light airplanes, regardless of the displaced threshold.
Touch and Go. Uh, I Said GO
When I was working on my private license several years ago, my instructor and I were cruising in a Cherokee 180 at around 8,500 feet when he pulled the power to simulate an engine-out condition.
I demonstrated all of the proper procedures for attempting a restart, then found a dirt runway to land on. I dropped the left wing to spiral down to the dirt strip that was thousands of feet below us. After spiraling down from 8,500 feet, as I turned final and touched down on the dirt runway, my instructor told me to continue on the roll and lift off.
As I moved the throttle full forward the engine began to sputter and it ran extremely rough. My instructor grabbed my hand that was on the throttle and he pushed hard on it, only to realize that I had it well planted into the firewall.
As the end of the runway fast approached – complete with a six-foot wooden fence – the motor cleared itself just in time to allow me to lift off and avoid hitting the fence.
The lesson learned is that as one is spiraling down one must every so often advance the throttle (clear the plugs) to prevent the plugs from fouling.
Other lessons to consider: Just curious if you considered aborting the takeoff rather than continuing a takeoff with a sputtering engine. Were also kind of curious if the carb heat was on to help suck up some of that dirt.
Fly Now, Yak Later
I was making a trip from La Porte, Texas, to Lake Charles, La., but during my weather briefing the specialist said VFR was not recommended because of visibility one to two miles in haze. Fortunately I had gotten my instrument rating a few months earlier and had logged about 10 hours of actual instrument time. I filed IFR for the trip, loaded my son into the airplane, and took off into visual conditions.
During the climb to 7,000 feet, I was talking to my son and not paying much attention to my instrument scan because the conditions were visual.
I dont know at what point I lost the visual horizon, but at some point I glanced at the instruments and found myself about 45 degrees off course and in a bank of more than 30 degrees. I had a hard time convincing myself Id better transition to instruments because my body was telling my brain that the instruments were wrong.
Only after carefully crosschecking everything could I bring myself to believe that the line I was thinking of as the horizon line actually was not. Even after that, it took conscious effort to ignore the false horizon that was painted in the haze.
Other lessons to consider: Trans-itioning from visual to instruments can sometimes be tough even for veteran IFR pilots. Trust your gauges. Well, trust, but verify. Use the autopilot, if you have one, to help you until you get your scan established. Include the wet compass in your view out the window. Not only can you detect heading changes without looking down, but it will keep you primed for partial panel work should you ever encounter it for real.