Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Short Hops

Monday I reach the airplane after my coworker has landed. I have credit card in hand and walk to the pump to swipe it, but she shakes her head. "It's dead." The computer lets you activate the pump, but there's a zip tie around the lever that you lift to start the flow of fuel. We're not sure whether we have run the 20,000 L tank dry or if we have burned out the pump motor from running it for so long, but we're not getting any more fuel out of it today.

Sigh. It was already a late start, and now we will be further delayed. There's an airport with full service fuel just seven minutes flight away, but by the time you land, fuel, pay and taxi, that's at least half an hour, and we'll have to do that twice to bring the airplane back full, too. But we do.

I accept a clearance to a right base to 13. I'm just realizing that I'm setting up for a left base, and that isn't making sense, even though I have the runway in sight, when the controller asks me if I would prefer a left base for 12. I accept that and adore the controller for not pointing out my mistake. He had cleared me right base for 30, but I managed to mishear that as 13, and rotate the runway ten degrees in my imagination, such as that I was setting up for a left base to where the non-existent 13 would be. But thanks to a sharp controller, no one who didn't see me on a heading that was no way going to put me on right base for 30 sees that I did anything wrong. I'm cleared to land on 12 and taxi for fuel without making a further fool of myself.

The flight is mostly over flat land, but we also cross some impressive river gorges. I love the way the drainage there makes the vegetation a different colour, so the terrain provides its own coloured relief map.

At the end of the flight I return to the same airport and it takes me a moment to find it amongst the bright city lights. The trick is to look for the big dark patch, because although a city runway is brightly lit, and the traffic areas of the buildings have lights, most of the field is not lit at all, so when you find the dark patch you can usually find the flashing beacon and then the runway lights. I've been descending on base, just on faith that the runway is there, but I'm descending towards tall city buildings, so when I turn final I'm a little high. That's okay: the runway is long and I have plenty of time to brake and exit. Just a little further than optimum to taxi back for fuel.

I'd like to be perfect, always hit the right spot for maximum efficiency, but sometimes I have to settle for being safe.


Anonymous said...

Pleased to see that even a professional has made the same mistake I did, which still haunts me after around 15 years, in lining up for the wrong end of the cleared runway.

Love reading your blog.

The Pilot said...

OMG. I did that too!
(Line up for the wrong end of the cleared runway.)

And like you... it was at least 10 years ago, and I still remember it.

And like the author, my controller was very forgiving.

John Lennerton said...

Ditto for the wrong runway mistake; I still fret over it 20 years later.

Kinda sharpens one's attention though, doesn't it?

Dave Earl said...

My controller wasn't so cool... "Where ARE you going?". :-)

Anonymous said...

dave, sorry to hear about that controller, they must have had a bad day. i can remember controlling at airports with flight schools and when it wasn't busy we had time to "help teach" the students. after the turn to finial and the approach had been stabilized i would ask the student to take a glance at the compass. there was ALWAYS silence for a few seconds, then i would clear them for THAT runway. i saw it as a learning lesson not only for them but myself as a controller to make sure my head was in the game. it worked all of the pilots called to say thanks for keeping an eye on them.

BinDerDonDat said...

Anonymous wrote: "...after the turn to finial and the approach had been stabilized i would ask..."

Wouldn't it be more helpful to ask the pilot "what's up?" while they still have time to correct it (like this controller did for Aviatrix)? Flight deck CRM frowns on us sitting and watching while the other pilot continues down the garden path instead of questioning him/her. Isn't there also the chance you could get distracted while waiting to point out the error, and so have it escalate into something worse? Just wondering...

Echojuliet said...

"I'd like to be perfect, always hit the right spot for maximum efficiency, but sometimes I have to settle for being safe."

Thank you. I have had many arguments with instructors of this issue.

Anonymous said...

"I'd like to be perfect, always hit the right spot for maximum efficiency, but sometimes I have to settle for being safe."

Smart pilot. The taxi back helps the engines cool is what I always think anyhow.

I assume you have played it not so safe in the past and learned. Mine was landing at night in rain past the intersection of a cross runway. There was less than a third of the distance left but it was the way to go for a short taxi to the FBO.

No more helpless feeling than threshold braking and hydroplaning (forgot about the standing water) toward the red lights at the end. I ended up making a 110 degree turn off on the last taxiway after stopping maybe 30 feet from the end.

My hand was still shaking when I signed the fuel receipt ten minutes later. Never again will I do something like that for a shorter taxi...

SwL_Wildcat said...

A few years ago I had purchased a dog from a kennel down in the USA. When the pup was 8 wks old I had her put on a direct flight into YEG. At the airport I found out the flight was diverted to YYC, due to heavy snowfall. This was on Dec 23. I was upset and worried what would happen to this pup so I immediately rented a 172 from the airport. I loaded up the family, filed a quick VFR plan and headed off to YYC. 30 out I made initial contact and was given a vector. 2 days before Christmas and traffic was NUTS! 16 was active and it was a steady stream of heavy tin in a well rehearsed ballet. I was totally impressed and very nervous. Once I got in a word edgewise I could tell the controller was not at all happy to be dealing with a small single on such a busy day. He cleared me to a right base LAHS on 28 which I accepted. I knew where 28 should be. I had the CFS open on my lap. I was heading 190 down the east side of the airport. Nothing. No visual on 28. I lined up where it should be according to all the landmarks and thought I would see it as I got closer. No runway lights, no tracks in the snow. Just white stuff. Now I was real worried and with hesitation I called the tower and told him what was going on. He came back with "Yeah 28 has not been plowed out yet today. Would you like a different runway?" Why on earth a controller would clear anything to a runway with more than 1 foot of snow is beyond me. Even the runway edge lights were completely under snow! I have never landed a 172 in over 12" of snow, and even though it's a rental I still wouldn't want to try it. I accepted 16 and was cleared to a left downwind #3 behind 2 737's. I watched the second bird pass and tried to keep my turn to final as tight as I dared without getting into any wash. After the first 737 landed another bird pulled out and made a rolling departure while the second arriving 737 was a mile out on final. I was very impressed with the timing, and I felt very guilty of messing up the timing sequence with this little 172. After the second 737 landed yet another big bird pulled out to depart 16, but he didn't do a rolling takeoff, he paused. I was less than 1/4 mile out and getting worried as he had not started his roll so I cut in on the radio and asked if I was to land "In front of, behind, or on top of the 737 in front of me" He replied "Don't worry he will be gone when you get there" He was still not moving so I initiated a 360 turn on final for clearance. Just as I was calling the tower he called me with a warning to make a right turn EXPEDITE! I guess his scope wasn’t broken after all. I finished the turn and landed but was visibly shaken by the whole ordeal. I was handed off to ground and they asked me where I wanted to go. I told them the cargo terminal pad. Long pause. Where? The cargo terminal pad just south of the terminal. Another long pause... They came back with "Do you have a cell phone?" I told them I did. He advised I really needed to call him in the tower NOW... Things just went from bad to really bad I thought. I am probably going to get busted for something I did wrong. Thinking back I could not think of where I had made an error, so I called the number he provided. He needed to know WHY on earth a light single would need to go to the cargo terminal. I told him the story about the cancelled flight and the puppy in holding. Being Dec 23, and everyone would be going home for the holidays this pup would get abandoned and left in a warehouse until who knows when. I offered to call the local news station and have them come down and film my 7 year old daughter crying when they refused to let her pick up her puppy. I can't believe I played that card, but it worked. He cleared me to the cargo pad, sent a van out to pick us up and take us to the area where we signed for the pup. Back to the plane. The controller adjusted traffic so I could depart with no delay and no conflicts. I think they were VERY happy to see me go. It’s good to see some controllers will go out of their way to help.

Aviatrix said...

Great story, SwL. I can't believe either that he cleared anyone for a runway a foot deep in snow, let alone a C172.

You have to tell us now, though. How was the puppy after all that? Is the dog still with you?

SwL_Wildcat said...

Yes, thanks for asking. She is a very healthy charcoal/silver Labrador Retriever. An excellent hunting dog and she is again looking forward to goose season. The less geese in the air, the less Airbuses in the Hudson. :)