I was 18 when I was training for the private pilot rating, and it was 1964. I was a pretty good student and followed the recommendations – always. One time, however, this didn’t provide the protection it should have.
At Hanscom Air Force Base, a joint civil-military controlled field (KBED), I was shooting touch-and-goes on Runway 5. I was cleared for another one, did the approach right, landed and took off just before the intersection with Runway 11-29. Maybe 100 yards before. And all was well with the world.
Suddenly, as I was climbing through 50 feet or so, a twinjet trainer (like a business jet, not a T-38) came screaming in from the left along Runway 29. It went through the intersection with 5-23 at over 100 knots and flew away. I was so close that I went directly through the wake – BOOM BOOM – with about a half-second between the percussions. I was OK, but shaken.
I picked up the mic and transmitted, in truly professional fashion, “What the hell was THAT??” to the tower. And they replied to land my plane and come to the tower to discuss. To my eternal regret, I followed directions and said nothing further. That, in fact, was their intent: not to have the incident on the tower tapes.
The visit to the tower was totally meaningless and inconclusive. Their explanation: they had given an Air Force trainer a “blanket clearance” to do instrument approaches. At that age and at that experience, I had no idea that a 50-foot altitude was breaking their minimums.
So I let it go, and did nothing further. Hell, I was 18 and only a student pilot. What would you have done?
Twenty years later, I was entering the pattern at Lawrence Municipal Airport (KLWM) in a Cessna 172. At that time, it was an uncontrolled airport so again, I was following the recommendations. I did a 45-degree entry just before midfield, joining the left downwind for runway 5 (it’s always runway 5 for me, I guess). I was at pattern altitude, approaching the end of the runway and preparing to turn base.
Then I saw a shadow above me, and lo and behold, a Piper (Cherokee or whatever) came into view directly above me, maybe 30 feet of altitude between us. He was slightly faster and was gliding down to pattern altitude. Twenty seconds later he was at my altitude, directly in front of me, and (without a rear-view mirror) was fat, dumb and happy preparing for his landing.
Obviously, I slowed my Cessna down. I landed after him, tied the plane down and went home. Today, I wonder if I should have gone over and punched him in the nose. I think yes.
Obviously, his glidepath hid my Cessna from him.
What can I say? Twice I followed the recommendations and almost got 100% dead. There would have been no doubt at all if I had collided with the jet trainer, and probably little doubt if I had a mid-air at 1,000 feet.
What lessons are to be learned?
- Never use any runway with a 5 on it.
- Don’t fly.
- Don’t trust any other pilots.
- Have a swivel installed in my neck, including both azimuth and elevation.
- Expect that approaching the airport is the most dangerous phase of any flights.
Of all these, number 5 is the one that seems to have practical use. I recommend it to my brother and sister pilots.