I have been a flight instructor for a few years at Orange County Airport in Montgomery, N.Y. During that time, its become crystal clear why pilots should be extra careful when flying into uncontrolled airports.
Some pilots neglect to use current charts, ignore the Airport/Facility Directory, and dont bother to check Notams before flying to another airport. Here are some perfect examples of what I am talking about.
In January 2001, Orange County Airport started to use a new CTAF because of radio congestion with other uncontrolled airports in the area. We all thought this would be great.
I quickly changed my mind the first time I had an aircraft starting to flare at the same time as me but at the other end of the runway. I went around and they continued to land. I then found out that they were making all the necessary radio calls but they were using the old frequency. The chart reflecting the change had not yet been issued, but there was a Notam out that the pilot was not aware of.
For the first four months after the frequency change, the old frequency was monitored by the airport manager, but sometimes they wouldnt hear the calls because of other duties, such as fueling airplanes. Lots of pilots monitored both frequencies, too.
After four months the new sectionals came out and the Notam was canceled. That was probably a mistake since people still use outdated sectionals and A/FDs.
Recently I was in the traffic pattern for runway 21 with a student when we noticed an airplane on short final for runway 8. The airplane went down to between 50 and 100 feet when they finally noticed a car on the runway.
The runway was closed due to a car being test-driven on it, and there was a Notam on it. The plane went around and made a right base entry for runway 3, which is supposed to be left traffic and was not the active runway. The wind was directly down runway 21 and there are windsocks at each end of the runway.
I tried to speak to the pilot and realized that he was on the wrong frequency. When I told them that the frequency had been changed about a year and a half ago the response was, Oh I guess we have some older material. Just the response I had expected.
I wonder if they saw that the car on the runway was a million-dollar McLaren F1. If they landed on the runway and people got hurt or the plane or the car was wrecked, whose fault would that be?
Is it the pilots fault that he didnt check Notams? Is it his fault he didnt have a current sectional with the correct frequency? Or is it the countys fault for letting a car company rent the runway to use as a drag strip? Well, I think everyone is wrong there, but according to the FARs the blame would fall squarely on the pilot. What if the pilot had an emergency and runway 8 was the best they could do?
I know that its not required to talk on the radio at an uncontrolled field and that landing on one runway or another is the pilots discretion. But lets face it – most airplanes have radios, why not use them? Just because you dont want to use the same runway as everyone else does not mean you want to go head-on with another aircraft.
One more thought, the next time you fly to another airport for a $100 hamburger, check the Notams, read the A/FD and use a current sectional. If you dont and you decide to come to Orange County Airport, the last thing you may see is your own reflection in the windshield of a bus. Companies routinely rent the runway to train drivers. If you mess up, it will be your fault.
Other lessons to consider: While we agree with your points about pilots flying with outdated information, we have a small bone to pick with your attitude that its the other guys responsibility to let you know where he is. Most airplanes have radios, but not all do. And some go NORDO in the air. Pilots should, by all means, be courteous and informative in the pattern, but that doesnt absolve other pilots of seeing and avoiding.
First Solo Cross Country
I knew before I even got out of bed that the weather for my first solo cross-country was going to be great. My weather briefing could not have been more encouraging. Visibility unlimited. Winds out of the northwest at 20 to 30 knots. No Airmets or warnings.
My destination was Keene Airport, 50 miles northwest of Boston in the beautiful Connecticut River valley of southern New Hampshire. My flight plan called for a straight shot from Bedford, Mass., flying over the rolling hills and fields of western Massachusetts. Nearing Keene, I would pass two miles south of Mt. Monadnock, a lone, rocky peak that dominates the horizon of southern New Hampshire.
At 3,165 feet, Monadnock is the highest point within 30 miles. Jutting above the flat, glacier-scraped terrain, its granite peak is impossible to miss from the ground or the air. I felt slightly guilty that it would make my pilotage practice so easy.
I could see Mt. Monadnock and half of my checkpoints by the time I got the Katana to pattern altitude. Looking due north, I could easily make out the 6,200-foot peak of Mt. Washington, more than 100 miles away. The air was smooth as glass, and the view was breathtaking.
I flew the heading I planned using the forecast winds aloft, but by the time I made it to my first checkpoint I had been blown several miles to the south. I determined that I was flying with a strong crosswind out of the north instead of the northwest headwind that had been forecast.
Rather than recalculating the wind correction angle, I simply aimed for Mt.Monadnock and jotted down checkpoint times and actual headings on my clipboard. I planned to calculate the actual winds aloft when I stopped at Keene.
Over the next half hour, I noticed the wind correction angle I was forced to fly was at least 20 degrees more northerly than my flight plan had called for. Somewhere in the back of my mind I found this vaguely troubling, but I was far too inexperienced and preoccupied with the scenery to think about it further. That was mistake #1.
As I neared Mt. Monadnock, I was briefly tempted to circle the peak. A few weeks earlier, my wife, also a student pilot, had flown over Mt. Monadnock with our instructor and had regaled me with a description of orbiting the peak and seeing hikers on the rocky summit below. But I decided to follow the rules and stick to my flight plan.
I cut the throttle and began my descent, concentrating on picking up the Keene ASOS and making my first call to the local traffic. I did manage to cast a few quick glances at the hikers on the summit as the mountain began to slide past to the north.
My reverie was broken a moment later by a single violent shudder. I noted that I was still at the high end of the green arc and decided to slow down. Another good decision. As I pulled the nose up, the Katana was suddenly wracked by violent turbulence.
The nose of the aircraft pitched sharply up and down, the wings rocked drunkenly, and the yaw was uncontrollable. I was out of control and all over the sky. Terrified, I looked at the flight instruments, only to discover that they were unreadable. Everything inside the cockpit was just a blurred mess. The realization that I was alone and in great danger passed through my body with a gut-wrenching shudder.
I had two immediate instincts, one good and one bad. My first instinct was to ignore everything else and try simply to keep the Katana from rolling inverted or diving at the ground. The phrase blue up, brown down suddenly took on a new and vivid meaning.
My second instinctive reaction was a serious blunder. In my panic, I simply wanted to get down, out of the clear air that had suddenly turned so menacing. Naively, I thought that I could somehow descend out of the turbulence, so I cut the throttle to idle. Of course, it didnt help.
The violent shaking and twisting continued and may even have intensified, but now the trees were getting a lot closer. I finally realized that I was giving up precious altitude for nothing. I added power and tried to level off.
Time seemed to stand still. My entire universe contracted to the tiny cockpit. Roughly ahead of the wildly yawing nose, I could see the two runways of Keene Airport only a few miles away. I was still headed in more or less the right direction, and at least there was no higher terrain ahead of me. I realized that any attempt to turn or to land in the violent turbulence would be suicidal, so I began to wonder what I should do when I got to the airport.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the violent shaking stopped, and I was again flying in incredibly smooth air. I over-flew the airfield and broadcast my intention to enter the pattern and land. I was still shaking with fear and had to remind myself to do everything on the landing checklist. I just wanted to get down on the ground as soon as possible.
Naturally, in my anxiety I misjudged the approach. Turning from base, I saw that I would fly through final. I could hear a voice in my head saying Dont even think about making a steep turn in the pattern. Out loud, I said to myself Youve made it this far. It would be a real shame to kill yourself in a stall-spin now. Embarrassed, I applied power and announced a go around.
This time, I flew a long upwind to give myself a chance to calm down. I looked carefully for other traffic and found none. I reminded myself that the air was smooth, I was OK, and my ordeal was over. All I had to do was make an easy landing on a 6,200-foot runway.
As I came over the fence on short final, feeling proud that I had stopped shaking and was making a nice approach, I was startled to see a large deer bound out of the bushes and stop directly in the middle of my touchdown zone.
This cant actually be happening, I said to myself. Deer only come out at night, and this is broad daylight. My heart sank as I realized that I would have to go around again, but just as I reached for the throttle, Bambi raced off into the trees. Somehow, my landing was a near greaser.
Inside the abandoned Keene terminal, I calculated that the winds aloft had actually been more than 50 knots directly from the north. When that air attempted to get past the solitary peak of Mt. Monadnock, it had created a mountain wave on the lee side. And I had flown blindly into it.
On my return leg I flew 10 miles due south of Mt. Monadnock before turning east. Even that far downwind, the air was quite bumpy.
I learned many important lessons from my first cross-country solo. I learned to visualize the flow of the wind, and to have a healthy respect for the conditions near mountains. I learned that when you are in trouble, altitude is your friend. And finally, I learned that deer dont always sleep during the day.
Other lessons to consider: Mt. Monadnock is less than 10 miles from the airport on the east side of the approach route to runway 2, and even more in the way for an approach to 32, as the forecast winds would have indicated as favored. You continued to fly in moderate to severe turbulence, even though at the time, you didnt know it was a local effect caused by the peak. Prudent action would have been a 180-degree turn rather than pressing on. Finally, consider running those winds aloft numbers in the cockpit, especially if you determine theres a big discrepancy. There could be more changes afoot than merely a mountain in the way.