Take another look at the title — we aren’t talking about the taxiway here! As runways expand within growing communities, there are many airports in the U.S. that have runways that end just too darn close to the road for comfort. Generally, the smaller the airport, the closer the end of the runway may be to the road and that, my friends, can add up to some real trouble…
SEE AND AVOID
This is the credo, both when you taxi and when you fly. The idea is simple: Keep an eye out for traffic, stay away from it, or risk a nasty encounter. What’s less obvious is that the same can be said for watching those roads out there that are right off the end of the runways, as well as your approaches to those runways.
Critical: You always need to devote some time to looking around — even when your vision is fixated on the end of the runway, keeping it still in your windscreen as you fly a stable approach.
Runways close to the road are usually equipped with a displaced threshold, which is intended to keep you high enough above the obstruction (road) at the end of the runway that you won’t have any encounters — close or otherwise. Still, the best laid plans of mice and men can all go to naught when the pilot decides to land short or an overly enthusiastic flight instructor pulls the power, surprising his student, and then demands a short-field approach…
CESSNA, MEET CHEVY — A CASE STUDY
Our intrepid student was flying a reasonably new Cessna 152 to landing at his local, rural airport. On approach, he had the landing nailed. The fuel selector was set to both, the flaps were down, the carb heat was on and he had a great sink rate. What our pilot failed to notice was that his approach was taking him to the end of the runway, and not to the landing area beyond the displaced threshold.
As fate would have it, a pickup truck was headed north on the road that was a mere 100 feet from the end of the runway. Our intrepid pilot had allowed the plane to settle a bit lower and, still focused on the runway, edged in some power to “drag it in” for a landing.
One hundred feet short of the runway, the plane and the truck met … at a ninety-degree angle. A horrifying set of noises marked the sequence of events as the aircraft struck the roof of the truck, bounced off, and crashed short of the runway while the truck skidded to a stop.
The truck driver got out to offer assistance to the pilot and, when he arrived, was greeted with an amazing sight. The pilot was uninjured, but the aircraft had been broken nearly in two by the impact. The tail failed just aft of the passenger compartment. The impact had collapsed the nose gear and, because the engine was running as the aircraft hit the ground, the prop got a few good turns into the soil before it stopped.
The very fortunate results of this “Close Encounter of the Worst Kind” was a totaled airplane, a ticked off pickup driver, and a freaked out pilot.
READING THE STORY VS. TELLING IT
Read up on the airports you will be visiting. Look for information in Flight Guide, AOPA’s Airport Guide, or even the Airport / Facility Directory. All of these sources, as well as instrument approach plates, have information on runways for you. Aside from the most extreme possibilities, a little pre-flight reading is all it takes help you avoid “running into” your newest enemy on the road.
BOTTOM LINE: Look for roads short of the runway threshold. Watch for traffic while on final — on the ground AND in the air. If you question your ability to clear the road –and any vehicle that could reasonably be on it — by a safe margin, the only important question has been answered. Power up and go around.