Just how much do you control when you fly? Most pilots would argue that they control a great deal — especially in VFR conditions — the altitude, attitude, power setting, destination… In flying, it is important to maintain control over all you legally can. In doing so, pilots can avoid accidents caused by collisions with another pilot’s “good intentions.”
Danger: Certain decisions that you make can place your aircraft technically within the control of another pilot. Here’s how…
Imagine you are landing at a non-tower airport, and another plane is following close in trail behind you. The pilot of the trailing plane calls you on the radio and says “I have you in sight, don’t worry, I’ll land short.”
CHOICES: You can either get your plane off the runway and out of harms way, or you can place your aircraft and your life in the hands of the pilot behind you. The problem here is not in the intentions of the pilot behind you, it is in what may happen to the other pilot during the approach, and if it does, what will happen to you. Translation: It’s all about risk and consequence.
Risk: The trailing pilot is distracted by a passenger and fails to fully extend flaps.
Consequence: The trailing aircraft will land long. If you are still stopped at the halfway point on the runway the two aircraft will collide and both will be substantially damaged.
GOOD INTENTIONS: The pilot of the trailing aircraft did not plan to destroy your aircraft — or his own. Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out the way we plan them. Things can get complicated and, in aircraft, things can get complicated quickly. DEFENSE: Ask “what if” and look for the worst case. If you can foresee it, you can avoid it. Don’t allow the safe operation of your plane to be taken away from you — not by a controller, not by another pilot … not by anyone. If someone offers to do something to “help” you, carefully consider what the consequences might be.
Case Study — A Little Courtesy … And A Near Miss
It happened years ago, but it is easy to remember it today. Several members of the local EAA Chapter were making Young Eagle flights in support of International Young Eagles’ day at the Morris Airport. There were four planes flying in rotations, trying to get over 100 kids into the air that day, and the airport was busy. The local restaurant had a booming business, with the clear June skies only helping to bring in more traffic.
One pilot had just completed his route and was landing with a full load of Boy Scouts. On rollout, another pilot in the pattern informed him that he could stay where he was, since his plane was a STOL plane, and he would land short. The pilot thanked the other inbound aircraft, since the airport did not have a taxiway installed. (Staying in the middle of the runway would cut his “back taxi” time down significantly, and would save him some fuel to boot.)
Fortunately, our groundbound pilot also asked the “what if” question. “What if the other pilot does not land short, and instead runs into my plane,” he asked. “If he does, I could have an accident that could involve the three Boy Scouts with me, possibly injuring the children and, at the very least, bringing terrible press for the Young Eagles program.”
After asking and answering these questions, the pilot taxied his plane off the runway at the end and into the turnaround area. As he watched the landing aircraft settle, he saw the plane start to skid sideways. The plane ground looped, and swung into the ditch — right about where his plane would have been sitting had he accepted the “good intentions” of the other pilot.
The pilot of the landing plane — and his passengers — escaped without injury, but the plane required significant repairs. Still, it is important to remember that by keeping control of his airplane, the first pilot had been able to avoid becoming part of a significant accident.