Runway Roulette

I was aware of a wall of trees ahead looming larger by the second


I was flying my PA-24-250 Comanche to Lee Airport in Annapolis, Md. It was a beautiful VFR day and, as always, I was taking advantage of ATC flight following. Everything went smoothly until Andrews Approach Control terminated radar services and instructed me to squawk VFR.

Approaching from the south, I noted again the orientation of the single runway, 12-30. There is no automated weather at Lee, so I tuned in to CTAF for traffic advisories and to hear which runway was in use. At this point, things got confusing.

The first response to my call for traffic advisories was a female voice stating she was about to take off using runway 30, and that the wind had been fluky lately. Shortly thereafter, a male voice chimed in that the wind definitely favored runway 12. This male did not say who he was, or whether he was in an airplane, but the tone of his voice suggested to me that he was irritated about something.

At this point, I was about eight to 10 miles to the south of the field. I waited a moment, and called again for advisories. The female voice then said she was taking off on runway 30, and she stated that neither runway was definitely favored. This time, she added the fact that she was instructing, and that she had been landing and taking off all morning on runway 30.

My approach from the south definitely favored runway 30. In fact, I was essentially on a 45-degree entry to the downwind leg for 30 without changing course. I made my decision to land on 30. To my credit, I did look for and locate the windsock, which gave me no useful information whatsoever. It certainly didnt favor one end of the runway over the other, based on my very brief glimpse of it.

There was no one else in the pattern, and I shifted my attention to landing the airplane. Runway 12-30 is only 2,500 feet long and 48 feet wide, which is short and narrow by my standards, and the fact that a busy road and numerous businesses abut the approach end of the runway didnt help matters any.

Gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop – all in order for landing. I flew a decent pattern, if perhaps a little high, and I set full flaps for final.

On I came, good airspeed, maybe a little too much power, which I pulled off. Now I was rapidly approaching the threshold. Too high, for sure, so I pulled off the rest of the power. Nothing else to do but wait. I was too low for a slip, or so it seemed at the time.

We floated on down the runway. I was acutely aware that something wasnt quite right, but I couldnt figure out what. Instinctively, I started hitting the brakes while still airborne. I tried to will the airplane down to the ground.

I finally touched down well past the halfway point of the runway. I was aware of a wall of trees ahead looming larger by the second, and I slammed on the toe brakes with every ounce of strength I had.

After bouncing and skidding the rest of the way down the runway, I stopped 15 or 20 feet beyond the end of the asphalt, taking out a few lights at the end. Not 50 feet ahead was a chain link fence; beyond that a ditch, and then the trees. After I stopped, I sat for a moment, and then I started to shake. Not just my hands, but both arms and both legs. I could barely turn the airplane to the taxiway.

Very slowly, I taxied to a parking spot and got out. I was aware of people watching. I looked at my tires, and both mains had numerous bald spots on them, and my left main had several areas of visible metal cords.

After collecting myself, I arranged to have a new tire put on. I also learned that the female instructor I first heard was teaching in a Cessna 150, and I learned that there had been previous friction that morning with regard to who was landing in which direction. Most important, when I got out of the airplane the wind sock was clearly pointing in the wrong direction for landing in the direction I chose.

I learned two important lessons from this nearly disastrous downwind landing. First, I learned to always be prepared to abort a landing and go around, which never even crossed my mind during this incident. Second, I learned that it is always up to the pilot of the landing aircraft to determine the preferred runway for takeoff or landing at an uncontrolled field. This is especially important when confronted with conflicting information, even if it means making several passes over the field at a safe altitude, focusing intently on the windsock.


Big Winds, Small Plane
Im a 55-hour private pilot. Ive used my father-in-laws Cessna 152 since first solo at 10 hours. On the weekends, well typically fly somewhere in Southern California for the $100 breakfast.

This time we flew to Cal-City (L71) in the Mojave Desert. I checked DUATs the morning of the flight. Excellent VFR with some high clouds above 10,000. He flew out. We ate and refueled for the return flight to the San Fernando Valley. I was PIC for the return flight.

We expected a rough ride back, since its usually windy in the desert and theres a mountain range to the west of our route. I contacted Joshua Departure and reported climbing through 4,500 for 6,500. After they gave me a squawk code, I noticed my altitude had dropped to 4,300 feet. I checked all the instruments and controls and determined that everything was in order.

I checked the VSI and discovered that we were starting to climb again, very slowly. There were three airports close by and along our route, so we kept going. The ride, of course, was very rough.

A bit later, a gust of wind hit us from the right and flipped the plane on its side, with the left wing straight down, and in a dive. I recovered from that as I was being verbally abused by my copilot. He thought Id done it intentionally.

Then we hit an updraft that took us from 4,500 to 6,000 in about 20 seconds. I reduced power to try and keep the airspeed within Va. The VSI was pegged. I leveled off at 6500 and the rest of the flight was bumpy, but mostly uneventful.

At home, I checked DUATs again and found that an Airmet for turbulence and updrafts/downdrafts had been issued for the entire area. I relayed the story to my CFI and he said it was a good experience, but I should have gotten a weather briefing from Flight Service before my return flight. I knew that before he told me.


No Pressure, No Fuel
When preparing my homebuilt Tailwind for initial flight testing, I made every effort to ensure that the airplane was ready. It flew well, with all temperatures and pressures normal and the engine running beautifully – for about 10 minutes. Then silence. The engine quit, for no apparent reason.

Fortunately I had stayed close to the airport, so I aimed for the runway and made a good landing. I checked everything carefully and found no apparent problems. I made a few minor adjustments and tried again. Same result.

After going through everything several more times and consulting two excellent A&P mechanics, I installed an electric fuel pump to supplement the engine driven pump, on the assumption that the engine wasnt getting enough fuel. One more dead stick landing.

Finally I hit on the fact that the fuel tank vent line exited the airframe just behind the cowling air exit. That had seemed a good idea at the time, but in reviewing my logic it seemed possible that it was actually in a low pressure area in flight, and the fuel tank would stop feeding as if the vent line were plugged. I modified it to ensure a positive pressure to the tank.

This time it ran great. Look out for hidden problems, and try to find the not-so-obvious solutions.


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