There were a lot of people out flying yesterday even though it was a weekday morning. I’m assuming it was because they had seen the same weather report that I had. A major cold front is supposed to be moving through the area again, bringing more winds and much colder temperatures – and possibly a bit of snow. According to the latest METAR as I write this, the winds are arriving:
KRTS 301815Z AUTO 34019G25KT 10SM CLR 03/M08 A3033 RMK AO2
(The Reno-Stead Airport’s new digital AWOS system is now available online and through the popular aviation weather applications – we’ve made it to the ‘big time.’)
Shortly after the previous shot I turned a bit north and took this of a railroad passing through a grove of pine trees – Christmas trees in the wild. If you weren’t aware that the Swift had leading edge slots, you can see the left wing slot out there just short of the wingtip. They direct air flow over the ailerons at higher angles of attack giving you positive roll control at virtually all speeds. Just inboard of the landing light is a strap that goes around the wing. It is actually a removable cover for the gap between the inner and outer wing sections. Removable at the annual to inspect the wing attachment hardware and fuel and electrical lines running through the wing.
This is just another shot of our high desert area around Reno – taken just west of Pyramid Lake as I headed back to the airport. The previous photos were taken just past the second ridgeline visible on the left side of this shot. The lighter v-shaped area is a glider port that I’ve mentioned in previous articles.
When I left Stead to get breakfast there were 4 planes in the traffic pattern and another took off just behind me. Now, as I headed back there were three different planes in the pattern. As I listened it was apparent that two were using runway 08 and one was using runway 26. Hmmm.
One plane was in the pattern using 08 and one was just about to cross over the field to enter downwind on 08. The contrarian had just taken off of 26 and was returning to land on 26. I took my time getting back to the airport to see how things worked out. Lots of discussions on the radio. One plane gave up and left. The other two, operating on opposite runways managed to time things to not conflict and safely got on the ground.
At that point I got to a 3-mile 45 degree entry to downwind for runway 08 (the runway best aligned with the AWOS-reported winds) and made my radio call. Just as I made my call the runway 26-user called taxing to runway 26 again. I made another call as I turned onto downwind – then I finally heard the other plane make a call that he was taxiing to runway 08. At last. I had wanted to fly a few patterns but I wasn’t going to stay in the air of this guy was going to go nose-to-nose with me.
I completed my first touch-and-go and was back on downwind when I heard the FBO call the other plane and ask if everything was all right. Apparently the plane had just come out of maintenance and the owner had left to take the plane back to his home base but made an immediate return. The reply that all was fine – the door had popped open on take-off and he landed to get it closed securely.
So now we have the full story. Could the pilot have handled things better? Probably. We could say that about all our flights. The winds were light, but favoring 08. When he taxied out there was only one plane in the pattern and going to runway 26 was more than a mile closer than 08. I’m sure he intended to take off and depart the area without interfering with the other traffic. But the best made plans sometimes go astray. First the additional traffic flew into the area. By that time he had finished his run-up at the end of 26 and was pushing the power up for take-off.
How many times have you heard of someone losing control of the airplane because a door came open on take-off and the pilot attempted to close it? Way too many! The first rule in any emergency is to FLY THE AIRPLANE. This pilot did that. It probably startled him and it was probably noisy, but it wasn’t particularly dangerous if he kept control of the aircraft.
In ‘normal’ circumstances he could have made a couple of turns and landed on 08, but that third plane was just about to cross over the field to enter downwind. Flying a normal pattern – though opposite traffic probably worked the best for him. He could have helped with situation by stating why he was returning to land, but he didn’t.
There could have been other un-communicated circumstances, too. When I saw him take off while I was on downwind I noticed that there were two planes making a formation take-off. The second plane never made a radio call nor did the lead plane specify that they were operating as a 2-plane formation. If the other plane had been on his wing for the first take-off it would have restricted his return options considerably.
The two planes made a straight-out departure and I never heard from them again. I finished my third pattern just as two more planes called that they were in the area and maneuvering to enter the pattern for 08. I stopped at the fuel island, filled up all my tanks and put the plane away for a few days. Maybe it’ll be nicer next week – and I can log some December flying time.