I learned about long straight-ins from that… by Jim Sokoloff

I have been away for 3 week due to poor weather in New England and my normal CFI was on vacation for the 4th weekend. So I called another local FBO and scheduled a session of dual for Sat morning (the 4th).

New instructor John is exactly that: new, just got his CFI in late March and has only soloed one student. I told him I’d done all the pre-solo training (except uncontrolled field) out of a class D airport and was very comfortable at controlled (C or D) airports. He glanced though the logbook, confirmed that, and we discussed doing basic airwork as a refresher, getting the rust out, and I indicated that I’d like to do things exactly as if I were flying solo but expected (and wanted) him to speak up if he’d recommend an alternative course of action. (I’ve flown 20+ hours with one CFI, who I respect and trust greatly, but everyone’s got a little different way of doing things, and I might as well see a few other viewpoints.)

Nice day, and everyone and their grandmother is out at the airport, with 5 or 6 in the pattern as we depart. Radio chatter is piss-poor, and people are flying patterns that look like an improvisational airshow. (One “downwind” that I saw appeared to actually come tangent to the runway at midfield and then gently swoop back out.)

Take off, fly east for a few minutes, climbing to 3000′ for airwork (terrain is 0-300′ around here). Do clearing turns, stalls (power on and off), steep power turns, a simulated engine out. Granted, this is the first time this guy has seen me, but giving me a simulated engine out at 4000′ with nothing but nice flat marshy swamp underneath me is a little bit of a puff-ball… Asking why I didn’t choose the beach when I can clearly see TONS of people sunning themselves is likewise not a challenging question. šŸ™‚

Flying over near Plum Island, MA, I ask to overfly the field, having only seen it from the ground. “Sure.” Overfly, decide to land there. First approach is horrible; too high, too fast, and to the shortest and narrowest runway (with trees at the approach end) I’ve been at. Decide to go-around while just over the approach end; CFI is claiming we had plenty of time to get down and stopped, but is fine with the GA decision. Fly the pattern again, nail the speeds but fly a little high (afraid of the trees), and land uneventfully. Back-taxi and take-off, climbing out for home.

Get the ATIS on the way and call into Lawrence Tower about 8 miles out. Offered choice of a left base entry or a long straight-in (which I accepted at the time, and would think twice about now), sequenced #3 to land and should call in over the river (~4 miles out).

Again a crowded pattern, and the Citabria in front of me is flying slower than seems humanly possible. (You don’t run over many folks in the pattern flying a 172, but I was closing on this guy in a hurry.) “0FP requesting right 360 for spacing.” “0FP right 360 approved; fall in behind the Cessna on extended final behind you.” “0FP, wilco. ” Fly a right 180, spot the traffic “0FP has our traffic”, another right 180 and T&G unevenfully (and very nicely.)

So far, great; couldn’t be happier. Even though I’ve felt a little sloppy; I’ve been totally safe. That’s about to change.

Radio is extremely busy; lot’s of folks chatting it up, blowing their radio calls, and just plain busy airspace as well.

T&G, upwind, crosswind, downwind. “Tower, 0FP left midfield for 23” “0FP, follow the Cessna on a long final” Look, spot a Cessna on final a bit farther than “normal” distance and call “0FP has the traffic, will follow.” Cessna passes off my left wing and I turn base. Several seconds of radio silence pass, and I’m about to turn final. Either out of habit or while checking the flap positioning, I look right before turning final and am shocked to see THE BIGGEST DAMN CESSNA 172 THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN bearing down on me, at my altitude. At this point, I’m not sure who’s screwed up, but I continue the left turn into a 180 and report the traffic to the tower [who knows what the exact text of my radio call was, but I’m sure you didn’t see it in the AIM!?!].

Tower advises me (in a completely calm, professional voice, amazingly without audible disdain): “0FP, continue left 360 for spacing; you turned in front of the Cessna you were supposed to follow.” (Hmm, “left 360 for spacing”; that’s a charitable euphemism for my manuever…) “0FP, apologies; left 360 and will follow the correct Cessna.” The other Cessna apparently never saw me (he was executing a practice ILS, and I pictured him staring fat, dumb and happy at his perfectly centered needles) and landed uneventfully (as far as he knew).

(I’d estimate that at no time were we within 0.5 miles, but that’s a good bit too close for my taste… Had no one seen anything, it’s likely that the trailing 172 would have eventually seen me or gotten jostled enough by my wake to look up and abort. Otherwise, he’d have gone around when he “broke out at minimums” and saw traffic on the runway. Or, we’d have sorted it out when I called short final and tower couldn’t clear me to land because they thought I was still #2 to land. In retrospect, we were WAY too close for comfort, but I think that a mid-air was unlikely (in this particular case, since we were flying identical craft and an overrun wasn’t likely). Still, clearly unsafe and clearly my bad.)

At this point, I’d had just about enough fun for one day; made that landing a T&G, and one more to a full stop (ironically, all 4 were 4 of my best actual landings to date). As we taxied back, I asked the instructor if he’d had a different interpretation of the traffic sequencing; he replied that he agreed with what I did, even though it turned out to be dead wrong.

Morals:

1. When you agree to sequence behind particular traffic, MAKE SURE IT’S the right one. In my case, there was a Cessna on long final, and another on a REALLY long straight-in. I saw one, called the traffic and missed the one I was supposed to follow.

2. When you’re practicing ILS in VMC, look out the damn window at least every once in a while… (And if you’re hooded, make sure the safety pilot is doing something other than patting you on the back for your centered needles.)

3. When you take a long straight-in, even at a controlled field, recognize that you aren’t as visible to other traffic and pay close attention to yahoos who might turn base to final in front of you. Saturday, I was the yahoo.

3b. Don’t even consider a straight-in at an uncontrolled field.

4. Try (though it’s hard when busy) to visualize where *everyone* is in the pattern, by callsign, not just by type.

5. Don’t do T&Gs in a pattern of 5 or 6 on a gorgeous holiday weekend at a binocular-controlled field. Go fly to a nice Class C field and get it done more safely, between the radar and the less crowded pattern.

6. When you screw up: aviate, navigate, communicate it to ATC immediately, and write up the embarassment for other students to learn from.

Jim Sokoloff