A Can of Worms

To begin with, lets just come out and say ‘this is a can of worms’. It’s a perennial can that ebbs and flows on the tides of aviation. I do not anticipate any one answer or conclusion; only (hopefully) an attitude of keeping the wrinkles out of our sails.

The scenario is preceded by days, weeks, months of relentless winter wx. Our aviator’s nose is pressed to the window of hope, willing the skies to clear for a quick trip up into the yonder. A recess of sunshine opens up and we all grab the keys and head to the airport. The gifts are many on days such as this. Petaluma has the good fortune of having a great airport community, excellent restaurant and beautiful scenery. Between a run out to the coast, a cruise up along the coastal snowy peaks, or a bay tour, there’s lots of flying in a local area.

Pilots, sharing the DNA of a herd of cats, can find a creative approach to just about any pattern around the ‘patch’. We all have memorized and have tattooed on our grey matter the standard approach to the landing procedure in the non towered environment. New pilots, with their bible of AIM clutched to their chest, can quote exact altitude and degree of offset a 45’ approach can take. This avenue of working into a busy pattern has been a standard of entry since print hit the page. We hold it high on the altar of flying sensibility. There’s irrefutable proof it has kept planes from swapping propellers.

But, yet, how about…These words erode the absolute and nibble at the edges of certainty. A perfect flight can be overcooked and burnt to a crisp by a pattern gone wild. What was a day of complete control goes down the flusher when planes are not where we thought they should be. A thousand hours of flying gives one a peak into the box of stupidity that we are not excluded from. There has been so many ‘bad words’ that scalded the lining of our cockpit. I could make a sailor blush. Our attitude and understanding is the only salvation to these mortal offenses.

There will always be the opportunity to deviate from standard operating procedures because it’s the safest choice. Say you’re coming into the 10 mile radius of an airport, announce your position, descend to pattern altitude and the radio is glowing a cherry red with four planes working the pattern. For instance, at O69 you may be approaching from the east, over the Schellville gap, one plane just launched, one plane is turning crosswind to downwind, another is on a three mile 45’, and another is an ultralight that dances to their own tune. The northwest end of the pattern is heavy with planes jockeying into position. It feels like a snow cross course at the Olympics. At this junction you have two choices; go upwind against the hill, trying to stay out of everyone’s prop or politely announcing you’re entering on a base leg and getting out of the stampede.

Another scenario… You’re approaching from the non pattern side of the pattern along the base line. There is no one on downwind or base. You are in the airport environment, set up at the correct altitude, announcing your location. Do you spend all that gas and time and possible conflict with someone popping up? Or do you announce “turning onto final as long as there’s no other aircraft on approach”?

How about the ‘straight in’? This approach more than any others sets pilots teeth on edge. You have patiently and courteously worked your way into a congo-line of planes in the pattern and then someone, whose parents should never have met, comes barreling straight into the pattern. They don’t announce 10 miles out and act like Air force 1; expecting everyone else to extend or put on hold any notion of getting to the ground. Their first communication is “straight in/2 mile final”. I don’t know about you but measuring straight in is like measuring a fish size. What is one plane’s two mile final is another’s 4 mile. It’s the lack of courtesy and safety that’s most aggravating in this approach. If no one is on downwind, base or final a straight in is a great way to get to the restroom quicker.

And don’t you just love the quality of all those old radios? Or how about the pilot who steps on everyone’s transmissions? It just frosts me when 4 planes are doing everything ‘right’ (talking, spacing, patience) and a 5th pilot decides they can just jump into the soup without any announcement.

We pilots, who have such an inner core of ‘control issues’, need an attitude adjustment. We do not own that space in the pattern. We can respectfully apply and work into it. We can always ‘give way’. We should never start a turn if it’s going to create a conflict. We need to chill out, practice breathing exercises in the pattern and be magnanimous enough to accept someone really needs to get on the ground sooner than you. There are other approach paths in life that can be safe and sane. You too may need to use one someday. Great friends, great fun, great flying! — Cindy

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