A Touchy Subject
About a year ago I was practicing solo landings in preparation for my FAA checkride to become a new private pilot. I was at a familiar untowered airport that gets busy and on this particular day it was exactly that. I announced my intent to complete a touch and go, closed pattern and received a reply from the plane behind me that he had me in sight and would land on the same runway.
I approached the runway with 30 degrees flaps and made a nice touch down. Carb heat off, full throttle, I hastened to take off and not delay anyone behind me.
To my surprise, the aircraft (a Cessna 172) sprang into flight at about 40 knots, not a safe speed. I forced the nose down to stay in ground effect and waited until I reached Vx before I started my climb. Still confused as to what had happened, I maintained runway heading and then noticed a very sluggish rate of climb. Yep, you guessed it. In my rush to clear the runway, I had failed to use my check list and still had 30 degrees flaps set. I initiated a stepped flap retraction and assumed a normal climb while cursing myself for being more concerned about politeness than safety. With a few passengers on board or a sudden tail wind things could have much worse.
Calling Flight Service
I recently flew my family to Yellowstone National Park in our V35 Bonanza. On departing from West Yellowstone, I called 1-800-WXBRIEF on my cellphone, and was connected with the San Diego AFSS. I got a no-surprises briefing and we launched. An hour or so later in the vicinity of the Tetons, I called Flight Watch for a weather update. The briefer was evidently bored and, as we got into a longer conversation, he asked if I was aware of the TFR. I told him I had not been briefed on a TFR in the vicinity, so he gave me the information on a small TFR in effect for Vice President Cheneys visit to Jackson Hole. I was shocked that I had not been advised of it, since my route of flight was within about 10 miles of the edge of the TFR, and I had resisted the urge to do some sightseeing that would have probably brought me closer! The lesson here is that if you call 1-800-WXBRIEF on your cellphone, you may be connected to a FSS in or near its local calling area. In such a case, the briefer may not have enough local-area knowledge to recognize all of the important NOTAM information relevant to your flight. Beware!
I was departing an airport with intersecting runways after an intermediate stop. A few planes were using Runway 27; no one was using Runway 2-20. Before taking off from Runway 27, announced my intentions to take the active runway on the CTAF. My grandfather (who is also a pilot) and I both looked for traffic in the pattern. Finding none, we taxied onto the runway and started our takeoff roll. As we lifted off, I saw another airplane on the intersecting runway coming right for us during his downwind landing. Obviously nothing happened, or you would have read about this in a preliminary NTSB report. Subsequently, other pilots at that airport said that the Pipers pilot never uses his radios because he doesnt have to. I keep thinking about how I could have avoided this close call, but I never saw any other airplane.
I personally think that it is irresponsible for other pilots not to use a working radio. I also feel partly responsible for never seeing this other airplane. I always read accident reports and think that couldnt happen to me or Im too smart to make a dumb mistake like that. I am here to tell you that, yes, it can happen to me in an instant. These types of incidents can happen to anyone, and you are a fool if you think it cant happen to you.
I think we sometimes become complacent because we have made so many takeoffs and landings without problems. I have learned that each and every takeoff or landing could have something special in store.
As for myself, I am much more vigilant during my takeoff and landing. I didnt think I could be anymore careful than what I was, but I still wonder if I had become a little complacent. I dont have the answer to that, and I dont think I ever will. However, I can make a change for future flights, and believe me, this will make it onto my takeoff checklist.
In response to your request for tips on flying at non-towered airports, here are a few Ive found helpful.
Airspeed on downwind is probably the biggest determinant of traffic issues in the pattern. If the frequency isnt too crowded, just say something like Cessna 345 is going to be flying 85-knot downwinds if knowing that helps anybody.
Call yourself something intuitive in the pattern, instead of just your type and numbers. I prefer something like, The blue and white Cessna. This may not be AIM-standard, but its intuitive, efficient and helpful.
Finally, if theres primary instruction going on at your favorite non-towered airport, avoid the pattern during the last 20 minutes of an hour, especially an even-numbered hour. Youll avoid a lot of the instructional traffic that is doing a few trips around the patch at the end of a lesson to burn up the remaining time in the scheduled block.