Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vanishing Airplane

I had an odd experience yesterday, holding at an uncontrolled airport. I taxied out in calm winds and then was asked to stay on the ground while someone in the back made a telephone call to confirm something. It's like driving a limo sometimes, except with the roar of the engines instead of the glass partition separating me from the back. While the telephone call was going on, the wind picked up and I was now at the wrong end of the runway. I was willing to take a few knots tailwind, but there were aircraft arriving so there were other safety issues involved in the runway choice. I checked with the back and they were now waiting for a call to be returned, so I had time to taxi back to the other end. I describe all this merely as preface, to indicate that I had been on frequency for a while and picked up a situational awareness for who was coming and going.

Sitting in the runup area at the correct end of the runway, with enough room for others to taxi around me if need be, I heard an airplane call inbound to the field, giving his ETE as 11 minutes. It was three minutes to nine at that point, so I wrote down his call sign and 9:07 on my kneeboard. That would give me an idea of when he was due, to help me not taxi out in front of him. A few minutes later he called again, seven minutes back. It was nine on the dot, so his ETA was unchanged. A few minutes later the cellphone conversation was over, the destination confirmed, and the cabin ready for takeoff. I called the inbound airplane by callsign for a position report. No response. Just in case I got his callsign wrong, I called again referring to him by destination and type. No response. He didn't answer on either the aerodrome frequency or 126.7. I would have seen him had he landed in front of me on the into wind runway. There was a possibility he had landed the other way, with a tailwind, but there was no taxiway between the one at the threshold, and mine. So he landed very short despite a tailwind and turned around to backtrack off the runway without making any of the required downwind, final, backtracking and clear calls? Unlikely. There would also be no advantage to backtracking: the two taxiways are equally inconveniently located to the apron.

I determined that whatever had happened to him, there was no conflicting traffic, and I took off. My current theory is that he accidentally used the wrong aerodrome name in his calls, and he was descending into some other aerodrome sharing the same frequency. Once he reached circuit altitude I stopped hearing his transmissions, and he could not hear mine.

Or he found himself suddenly in the Bermuda triangle, where he took advantage of the international card in his GPS and landed somewhere hospitable where he and his passengers are enjoying fruity drinks with umbrellas.

10 comments:

silver horde said...

It's not Halloween for two more days!

Sarah said...

Spooky! It could be made even more so by leaving out the ending paragraph where you suggest the rational explanation(s).

Magic (and many other things) needs a little mystery.

Ok, this is a comment so needs speculation. Maybe it was a UAV the size of a bird and you just didn't see it.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps he used the correct airfield name but mis-identified it and landed somewhere else.

Aviatrix said...

It's not Halloween for two more days!

Doh! I didn't even notice. I should have saved my spooky story for Hallowe'en.

Maybe it was a UAV the size of a bird and you just didn't see it.

Nope, he gave the aircraft type and it was a twin engine machine the size of mine.

Or perhaps he used the correct airfield name but mis-identified it and landed somewhere else.

Ooh, he'd be pretty lost. That would be embarrassing.

majroj said...

Do the people in that particular tower not like you?
("Hey, Burt, watch me make that guy down there sweat. ' I'm eleven minutes out'....").

Aviatrix said...

Tower? There is no tower for a few hundred miles in any direction. Just pilots.

Grant said...

This would not be the first time someone's called "On approach to airport x" when really they're at airport y.

Heck, I've read heaps of stories about the embarrassment that ensues and I know one day it'll be me doing it (it's like landing with the gear up: you've either done it or you haven't done it *yet* :)

Aviatrix said...

The level of embarrassment varies depending on whether
a) you've been flying back and forth between the same few airports all day and although you know perfectly well where you are, the wrong aerodrome name comes out of your mouth. That one is a small embarrassment, like saying the wrong flight number or calling departure while you're still on tower.
or
b) you really DO think you're on approach to x, right up to the point that you taxi up to the terminal building with Welcome to Y proclaimed across the front of it. Big embarrassment. And in some cases they have had to partially disassemble airplanes or extend runways to get them out again, because they landed at the small secondary airport, with a runway too small to take off again.

And whenever I deliver a bad landing I think, "Hey, at least I put the wheels down."

majroj said...

Oh, the tower's vanished too?
Watch out for langoliers!
And keep putting the gear down, too.

Anonymous said...

In the Vietnam war somke pilots would hear aother pilots engaging migs were there were none. After a few times they got some information that pointed to the fact they were hearing old transmissions from the Korean war. Just a thought. That is a strange experience. Where did this happen?