A Lack of Control
I was inbound for landing in a Cessna 172 to my home field. I checked in with the tower about six miles out and was told to report back on a left midfield downwind. The runway in use normally used right traffic. The weather was clear and visibility was unrestricted.
While I continued toward the airport, the tower cleared several departures and apparently one of them was a left downwind departure, but I didnt hear that clearance.
The controller was fairly new at the airport, and she did not provide me or the airplanes departing with any traffic information. As I approached the crosswind/downwind intersection, another 172 suddenly appeared on a collision course. I stopped my descent and turned slightly to the left while the other airplane stopped its climb and turned to the right.
We missed each other by perhaps 50 feet horizontally and 20 feet vertically. Close enough for me!
About five seconds later the senior controlled jumped in to give a traffic advisory, but of course by then it was over.
I could have avoided getting this close by following more closely the departure clearances, which would have alerted me sooner to the presence of a possible conflict. I could also have reported that I was about to enter the downwind, despite the instruction to report midfield.
Departing pilots often do not know where incoming traffic might be because they dont switch to the tower frequency until just before departure. I think there are many near mid-airs – and even a few actual collisions – that are caused by similar situations.
I learned not to trust the controller for separation unless Im on and IFR flight plan. I had recently received my instrument rating, and perhaps I had forgotten how to talk like a VFR pilot and see like a VFR pilot. Fortunately, I happened to get away with it this time. Perhaps next time I wont be so lucky.
Other lessons to consider: Wed advise you not to let your see-and-avoid guard down even when flying IFR. The controller is only responsible for separating you from other IFR traffic. In visual conditions, youre still expected to spot the VFR guys.
I am a former 600-hour CFI, in my mid-fifties, working on my instrument ticket, which is another word for mentally challenged. My 10,000-hour CFII owns a Cessna 182M that I occasionally flew.
On one flight, I noticed the tachometer appeared to be suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. The engine was running smoothly, but the tach had a mind of its own. During the runup the engine would eventually settle into a 1700 rpm hum, with the tach having a mean of 1700 rpm, plus or minus 500.
I put in a squawk to the owner/instructor, but he was having a time just trying to pay the insurance. Leather seats? Bose headsets? The renters begged for em. But the sloppy tach was too much to ignore.
I called the owner for my bimonthly instrument lesson, and he was ecstatic – but not because at the rate Im going itll take me two years to get my ticket.
Youre not going to believe this, he said. All your squawks, except the leather seats and the Bose headsets, are done. I even threw in a rebuilt carburetor at yesterdays hundred-hour. And wait until you see the tach. Its a beauty. Digital.
Well, I was certainly impressed. The run-up was plus or minus 2 rpm. All of the systems checked out and it was time to launch.
I gently poured the coals to her and the 182s fan came to life. Fat, dumb and happy we were going down the runway, all the while staring at that new digital tachometer toy. Pretty cool.
We were slapping each other high-fives as we lifted off, and the instructor kept his eyes pegged to the tach, with an occasional glance out the side window. Finally I spoke up. This thing doesnt feel like were getting all the fire we should.
The trees at the departure end of the 2,500-foot runway were almost within reach as we eased over the top of them. Both of us at about the same time got the same idea and looked at the manifold pressure gauge – barely 21 inches.
We managed to struggle to pattern altitude and came back for an uneventful landing. Back at the hangar, the owner and the mechanic that performed the hundred-hour ripped the cowlings off. The problem was immediately obvious as the carburetor linkage was installed incorrectly.
In eleven minutes the problem was fixed and we were on our way. This time, we both remembered a complete scan as we started the takeoff roll. Its a good thing we hadnt been trying the earlier takeoff at maximum weight or I and all aboard would be unable to share the story.
This flight was the lesson of a lifetime. Grim Reaper: zero. Me: More than my share. Im pretty sure Ill never have a lazy eye toward the manifold pressure gauge on takeoff again!
Fixation can have deadly consequences, even in good VFR weather. Dont let it happen to you.