As our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that a maneuver I witnessed last weekend at a very busy non-towered airport didn’t test Newton’s second law . As I was waiting in the lineup for takeoff , the frequency was abuzz with everyone reporting various legs in perfect VFR weather. A Mooney on base leg apparently didn’t see the Cirrus flying a much wider base. He should have but didn’t.
The Mooney turned final as did the Cirrus and both announced but nobody, it seems, was looking or listening. The Cirrus rapidly overtook the Mooney and it looked like there would be widely scattered composite and aluminum in the forecast. I advised the Cirrus pilot that he had a Mooney at his 12 o’clock low on final.
Most pilots would have acknowledged, sidestepped to the right to keep the traffic ahead in sight and started a climb straight ahead to re-enter downwind at least midfield or beyond. This particular runway has right traffic. The Cirrus pilot announced he was starting a left 360 so as to re-enter on final from the left side. I probably overstepped my bounds by again advising the Cirrus that he would come head-to-head with another aircraft on right base. Unfazed, the Cirrus pilot tucked in closely behind a Cessna that was following the Mooney. The second aircraft may have “just” cleared the runway when the Cirrus touched down. It was an astounding piece of airmanship!
After reflecting on this for 48 hours, here are some observations: Midair collisions are rare – average less than 10 per year. They are often serious with fatalities on one or both aircraft. They frequently result in significant reactions from media and the non-flying public even if the wreckage doesn’t cause significant ground damage. Remember the Hudson collision? It was the first one in the corridor in 45 years and the changes are far reaching. This situation had huge negative potential for this airport based on this pilot’s spur-of-the-moment decision to take a shortcut.
Here are two Safety Advisors for review:
Operations at Non-Towered Airports ( PDF) and
Collision Avoidance ( PDF)
I’m asking for your opinions as a sounding board:
1. I should have kept quiet after the first warning. Nothing wrong with a 360 – There’s no rule against it -and it all worked out.
2. The Cirrus pilot should have flown a normal miss and re-entered the downwind. Get out the tar and feathers – track down the miscreant and make him read the AIM cover to cover!
3. Other — you’ll have to do some writing here.
Don’t lurk -lock in your votes and if you have a chance, go flying this holiday. Heads up – eyes out!