Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lesson 20: Stupid pilots and another new airport

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-MGY-MWO-40I
Weather: Clear, 91 degrees, wind variable at 4 knots

There was no escaping the heat today, and along with the warmth came some bumpier air. I could not wait to get the engine started and feel the breeze off the prop through the open windows while we taxied. Departing from Runway 8, we turned towards Wright Brothers so I could get more experience at other airports. Dave had been telling me before the flight how an examiner who is based at Wright Brothers was just talking to him about some of the crazy (and by crazy I mean people who do stupid things in the air) pilots who fly there. So in a sequence we could not have scripted any better, we were treated to a full display of such wonderful piloting after we landed and departed again from MGY.

I had been calling out our position properly when we first entered the pattern, landed, and was again doing so on departure. Then in came two planes from the North and East who announced over the radio the thought the winds (which were variable and actually slightly favoring Runway 20, which we were using) favored Runway 2 so they were going to land in the opposite direction we just took off from. Of course, any pilot arriving at an airport is supposed to comply with the current traffic pattern and we had clearly "established" that Runway 20 was in use. Anyway, I turned crosswind and then downwind so we were out of their way. Then a third plane called their position on downwind as one of the original two was also on downwind for Runway 2. Dave and I looked to the West and watched these two guys nearly have a mid-air because they were clueless as to where the other was. Having seen enough of that dangerous nonsense, we decided to get the hell out of there and fly over to Middletown. When it comes to the craziness and/or stupidity of some of the folks flying out of MGY, umm, point taken.

Hook Field Municipal Airport (MWO) in Middletown has some history associated with it, as it is where the Aeronca Corporation (the folks who built the Champ, amongst other planes) was headquartered and manufactured aircraft for many years. Here we worked on takeoffs and landings, I did one touch and go, and I did short field takeoffs for the first time. To do a short field takeoff, you taxi as far to the end of the runway as possible, hold the brakes, apply full power, and then let the brakes off while maintaining neutral control pressure. When the plane's ready to fly, you just pull back and off you go into the air. We also had some fun on one landing where I landed just past the threshold and hit the breaks to get us stopped so we could take the first turnoff on to the taxiway, which you can see in the GPS track. Believe it or not, a Piper Cherokee even entered the pattern properly, made the right calls over the radio, and followed us in the pattern for a couple circuits - what a novel idea!

I'm starting to feel more comfortable with the Cessna so now I think that I'm at the stage where I need to focus more on the details. Paying attention to the turn coordinator, holding my airspeed through attitude on climb out, watching my airspeed on approach and final, rounding out and flaring at the right height above the runway... these are some of the main things I have noticed with my flying. There have been a few great landings but I can tell that I got too used to the sight picture (sitting slightly lower to the ground) in the Champ and I have had a tendency to not flare soon enough. Good thing Cessna installed some hefty landing gear to keep me from looking too stupid. My radio work is really feeling good and Dave kept saying I seem really comfortable talking over the airwaves. I can't tell you why, but it just feels natural so far.

Interesting and stupid pilot tricks aside, it was a great day to spend some more time in the old 150 and fly to another new airport. This whole flying thing's fun in itself, but it's a heckuva lot cooler when you end up somewhere other than where you started. Due to the business travel it will be too long until I'm up next, but when that day comes Dave said we'll work on getting me soloed in the trusty old Cessna. Until then, safe flying everyone!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 4.3 hours
Total Time: 28.3 hours


  1. Steve--
    Nice to see you are now going up in the Cessna 150! know the devil is in the details in the high-wing planes with flaps. You really have to be precise in order to make these planes perform to a level that doesn't leave something in your shorts afterward, if you know what I mean.

    Enjoy Japan! The planes will still be here when you get back.

    Greg P.

  2. Dave, for what it's worth... it's a bad idea to get riled up about what runway other pilots choose at a non-towered field. It's true that sometimes pilots do dumb things and I'm not arguing the other folks in this encounter were right. But you should understand that there are several legitimate reasons to choose a different runway than the one "in use" (and I think if you study up, you'll find you're mistaken in your assertion that those other pilots are "supposed to comply with the current traffic pattern").

    Some reasons why a newly inbound pilot might choose a different runway than you include:
    - Noise abatement: many airports specify a "preferred" runway when winds are less than 8 knots, even it it's downwind. Doesn't mean you have to use it if you're uncomfortable, but others may be trying to keep the neighbors happy.
    - Instrument training: a practice IFR approach in VFR conditions is sometimes a "wrong way" approach, but it's done all the time.
    - Length limitations: a 135 ops spec or other limitations might require landing on longer runway with a crosswind rather than shorter runway with headwind.
    - Runway gradient: maybe the guy would rather land uphill with a tailwind than downhill with a headwind.
    - Personal reasons, e.g. hangar is at one end of the field. Yeah, it's arguably a lame reason, but it's a deliberate choice, not an issue of someone being clueless.
    - "Forgivable" dumbness: you'll be doing your solo cross country trips to unfamiliar airports in the near future. Do you really want the folks at the airport you're visiting to be primed to hate you if you make a mistake entering the pattern? ;-)
    - And perhaps the most common reason: maybe the new guy got a different wind report than you. If winds are light and variable, who's to say they aren't shifting around while you're in your "established" pattern?

    That last one is especially interesting, because in that case the other guy is probably just as annoyed with you for flying a "wrong way" pattern, as you are with him. :-)

    Of course I don't know if any of the above applied in your situation, and again, maybe the other guys really were just dumb. But the bottom line is, the runway used at an untowered field is the choice of the PIC and no one else - certainly not the pilot of another airplane. Sure, sometimes the other guy makes a bad choice. But he may also be making a good choice that you simply don't understand. In either case, it helps no one for you to get steamed up about it. It's always reasonable to leave if you're uncomfortable, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that XYZ airport is chock full of "dangerous pilots", and a place to be avoided. I hear those kind of comments from time to time about my home airport, and I frequently find they are from non-local pilots who don't understand our noise abatement plan, or the kind of instrument training that goes on there, or the parachute operations, etc.

    So rather than getting steamed up about "wrong way" pilots, suggest you give them the benefit of the doubt, and just pay attention - keep your head on a swivel and all that. And I think you'll find that if you play nice and be respectful, the occasional "wrong way" traffic is not as big of a deal as it may seem like at first.

    That's my $0.02. I'll understand if you disagree, but thought you might like to hear a different perspective, maybe give you some food for thought.

  3. Ack! I hate it when people don't 'play by the rules'. COMMUNICATE! Glad you got out of the situation....I would have too!

  4. Greg,

    The Cessna's a fun little bird. With a few more flights in her and the solo endorsement (which is coming up soon most likely) I think I'll be having a great time bouncing around to some of the local airports here.


    Not sure if your comments were directed towards me or my instructor (Dave) but points well taken. I was attempting to not generalize about all pilots at that airport, which I indicated in the post, but just talk about what we saw happen there that day. All the reasons you listed are certainly valid and I understand all of them and why other pilots would use the "wrong" runway. None of those situations were applicable to what happened that day, though. Anyway, I really do appreciate the different viewpoint and your comments remind us all of why our heads must be on a swivel!


    Heading out of the area was definitely a smart decision - yes, it can be good to practice in busy uncontrolled airspace (well technically it's 700 ft Class E there, but I digress) but when you feel safety may be compromised it's time to leave!