Controlled Chaos

We were both halfway down our respective runways and were headed for a mid-air collision where the runways intersect.


While at a tower-controlled airport that has intersecting runway, I was having my student practice touch and goes. After about five, we were on crosswind and told the tower we wanted to depart the airport to the southeast after this landing.

We were cleared for the touch and go while on downwind, and the tower told us to keep our pattern tight. We acknowledged and started our base turn and then turned to final. The student proceeded to bring the airplane down to the runway. After the wheels were on the ground and the airplane was stable, he retracted the flaps and added full power for the takeoff. I was watching the climb angle, the field ahead and the airspeed as we started the climb out.

Right at this time, the student pointed out to me an aircraft taking off on the intersecting runway, from our right to left. The other aircraft was about 20 feet agl and we were about five feet agl. We were both about halfway down our respective runways and were headed for a mid-air collision where the runways intersect.

I immediately took control of our aircraft, pulled the throttle to idle and got our airplane back on the runway. The other aircraft immediately pulled into a steep climb and a right turn, away from our flight path.

The runway we were on is 3,677 feet long, with a displaced threshold of 558 feet. At the end of the runway is a large body of water. Using every technique I could think of to stop the airplane from going into the water, I was able to slow it down just enough to make an exit off the very last taxiway exit at the end of the runway and keep the airplane from flipping over. Had I waited another few seconds before pulling the throttle to idle, the airplane would not have been able to stop in time.

I can only conclude that the tower, for whatever reasons, was not aware of the situation, since no one said anything on the tower frequency during this entire episode.

So, if you are at a towered airport, remember that the only sure help you can count on is yourself. Dont become complacent just because your receiving instructions from a controller. Be aware of whats going on around you at all times.

Other lessons to consider: That means monitoring the clearances other traffic gets and – shoot us now – avoiding touch and goes in high-density traffic environments.


Not a Skymaster this Day
As a new pilot with less than 100 hours and owner of a Cessna Skymaster, I was the perfect candidate for a disaster. In fact, many wags at the local airport have been predicting my demise because Im a low-time pilot in a complex twin.

The combination of a head cold, Benadryl and poor decision-making on my part almost proved them right.

Like most VFR pilots who live in the mountains, I was getting antsy to fly after endless days of snow and wind. When the sun came out, I called my son and, cold or not, we were going flying. The fact that I had taken medication that morning did not ever register with me as a factor in the flight.

After an hour in the air, we entered the pattern for runway 02, which was 9,000 feet of beautiful asphalt. We had been discussing the turn final over OLearys barn syndrome that you get at your home airport, so I requested and was cleared to switch to runway 35, which was 4,200 feet long.

Although this runway would not ordinarily present any problem, I was thinking about an instructor who had told me to use the longest appropriate runway available whenever possible. Another check confirmed that everything was ready and the airplane was configured for landing. The speed was a little high, but nothing I couldnt fix.

Feeling relaxed – though now Id call it lethargic – I picked out my touchdown point. At about 40 feet agl I realized something was not right. Finally it dawned on me that something was that I was lined up for the taxiway instead of the runway.

I had been well schooled in go-arounds, but for some reason it seemed to make perfect sense to just sidestep over to 35 for landing. I realized I needed to do this quickly because of the runway length.

In my haste to get the wheels on the ground, my touchdown was not centered and definitely not aligned with the runway. On my roll out I could see I needed to run across the grass between the runway and the taxiway to avoid groundlooping the Skymaster.

The only damage was a major hit to the ego and confidence of a new pilot – and some telltale tracks across the grass that seemed to take all summer to disappear. Why I didnt just go around is difficult to fathom, but I believe the medication made a poor decision in the air seem like a good one.

But the real bad decision started on the drive to the airport.


Call Me a Fool
As a 16-year-old student pilot, I was flying a Cessna 150 from a flying school in northeastern Pennsylvania. The airplane was a blue and white 1967 model. I used to step onto the strut and pull myself over the wing to check the fuel visually, but my instructor would laugh at me for doing this.

One day, we were getting ready to fly and knew that the tanks were almost empty, so the instructor called for the fuel truck and ordered a top-off on the blue and white Cessna 150.

When we got to the airplane, I was conducting my preflight and my instructor told me not to bother climbing on the strut because he had just had the airplane topped off.

We took off and were a few miles out, over the mountains surrounding the airport, with both fuel gauges reading nearly empty. My instructor tapped the gauges, but they didnt move. We went back to the airport and discovered that both tanks were nearly dry.

As it turns out, the fuel truck had topped off another blue and white Cessna 150 parked a few airplanes away from ours. After that, my instructor never ridiculed me again for climbing up onto the wing to check the fuel.Never let fear of another pilot ridiculing your actions deter you from doing what you think is safe and necessary -no matter how many ratings and hours they have.

Other lessons to consider: Three words that come to mind – trust, but verify. Besides, what about the fuel caps?


Smoke if You Got Em
I was preparing to take off from Wheeler in downtown Kansas City in a Piper Comanche when I discovered the taxiway and runway were very icy. I set the parking brake for the runup but the airplane slid forward as I advanced the throttle.

I had over 1,000 hours in type and was very comfortable with the airplane, so I did a fast runup while skidding down the runway, then went ahead and took off.

When I landed in Albuquerque four hours and 20 minutes later, I put the gear down, totally forgetting that I had never released the parking brake that I had set before takeoff.

The tires hit the dry runway and I screeched and smoked down the pavement. Before I could get the brakes off I had blown a tire. I was embarrassed, but fortunately the only impact was that I had to buy a new tire.

I have since stopped setting the parking brake, relying now on holding the brakes manually during runup.


By the Book Fails to Deliver
I made an emergency landing on a road in Iowa because of fuel exhaustion.I was so convinced of the correctness of my technique that I failed to heed the warning the fuel gauges gave me. Instead, I flew by the book numbers for fuel consumption and my time aloft. The book said the Lycoming O-360 would burn 9 gph, a figure I verified on my own.

I was making a four-hour flight with the engine recently overhauled. With 48 gallons useable, I figured 5:20 worth of fuel. I flew 3:59 and was on the ground seven miles short of my destination – meaning the airplane had burned 12 gph.

Further investigation led me to demand that the newly overhauled carburetor be replaced. After that work was done, my fuel consumption went back to 9 gph. Subsequently, several ADs were issued on the carb that had been installed at the time. It seems an overhaul error had made it unreliable.I now check the gauges frequently, still not trusting the airplane to fly by the numbers.


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