My wife, undoubtedly, would choose our honeymoon encounter with ice; my mother the complete electrical failure we experienced while on an IFR flight in very IFR conditions; for those who have heard a few of my hangar-flying stories, it might be the time I almost became a bug splat on the windshield of an F-4; but for me, my scariest time in an airplane was the time I was late to the party in figuring out what the airplane was doing.
After DFW Airport opened in 1973, I started using Dallas Love Field. It was convenient, had a great FBO, and with parallel runways (both of which had ILS approaches), traffic seemed to flow in and out of Love Field much better than it did at Addison, which, prior to DFW’s opening, had been my Dallas-area airport of choice.
Though it was never my home-base, by the late 1970s I’d flown in and out of Love Field so many times that it might as well have been. I normally approached DAL from the north, and on VFR nights, when I didn’t hear much traffic on Addison’s tower frequency, I’d usually ask Addison for permission to transition their Airport Traffic Area as I headed due south for Love. Approach typically wouldn’t coordinate with Addison for an overflight, so I either handled that task myself, or I just stayed a little to the east of US 75, talked to approach, and waited for them to send me over to Love Field Tower as I passed over Texas Instruments at the intersection of LBJ and US 75.
On this particular clear and forever night, I was using the “Addison Transition” approach. Addison cut me loose as I passed over their midfield, and that’s when I switched to Love Field Tower, told them that I’d been talking to Addison Tower (don’t freak out; Addison knows about me), and that I had the ATIS information.
The tower then told me to make a straight in for 18.
Who in the history of Love Field has ever landed on 18?
I didn’t want 18! The FBO I was heading for was on the airport’s southeast ramp. The phraseology I wanted to hear from Love Field Tower was “Enter left base for 13L” or “Enter right downwind for 31R.” Who in the world had ever heard, “Make a straight in for 18,” from Love Field Tower?
I was in a 1958 Cessna 310B, indicating 180 MPH, which was the speed limit at the time for piston-powered airplanes in Airport Traffic Areas, and for speed control purposes I was counting on a downwind to 31R, or a crisp turn to base for 13L, either of which would allow me to slow to my 15-degree flap and landing light extension speed (160 MPH indicated), which would then quickly get me down to this plane’s VLE and VFE of 140 MPH indicated.
I was about to make the request for 13L when the tower told me that I was number two for 18, following a 210.
Oh, okay, I’ll be nice to the controller and not make him figure out a crossing runway situation. I ought to be able to follow the 210. Where is he? Oh, there he is, about 3 miles ahead of me.
A few S-turns got me slowed to 160 MPH indicated, and from there, with 15 degrees of split flaps and those big under-wing landing lights now grabbing gobs of air, I was soon down to 140.
How fast is that 210?
I’d never flown a 210, but I guessed that he’d be indicating at least 100 MPH. My personal minimum until short final for this 310 was 120 MPH indicated. That’s what I reduced to. It’s hard to judge distance when all you have to look at is a white tail light and a red rotating beacon, but I thought things were going to work.
I really didn’t want to deal with all of the taxiing that it would take to get me from a normal landing’s rollout on 18 back to the FBO, and I was gaining on the 210. How about this: fudge on my 120 MPH indicated minimum and reduce to 100, and then plan on touching down on the numbers and making the turn off for 13L? The 310 was light and would have a low stall speed, and I was high on the approach so I wouldn’t be asking much from the engines from here on out. This ought to work! I started rolling in the extra nose-up trim for a 100 MPH approach speed.
The 210 crossed the threshold with me still more than a mile from the runway. Things were looking good. The 210 just needed to turn off or make it 4500 feet down the runway and everything would be fine and dandy.
The 210 landed fairly long, but when I saw him turning towards the terminal that was to his left I knew I had it made. I gently pulled off the little bit of power that I was still carrying, rolled in a little more nose up trim, and I was ready for a slow touchdown a few feet before the numbers. Power off. Start the flare. Almost ready to touch down… and that’s when the 210 darted back to his right, back onto the runway.
I had plenty of room to land and stop before I got to the 210, but rules being rules, the tower told me to go around. I shoved the throttles forward. “Pitch, Power, Flaps, Climb, Gear” was my mantra for engine failures and go arounds, but I was so slow when I was instructed to go around that power had to be the first thing applied. By the time I got back to pitch, it seemed that decades had passed. Where was I? Who was flying the airplane? What happened to planet earth?
Oh sure, in real time maybe only a second or two had passed, but the airspeed indicator, once I got around to looking at it, was showing 80; there was nothing but black out the windshield; and the attitude indicator was showing a crazily high nose-up attitude. The throttle, prop, and mixture levers were balls to the wall; one cough from either engine and I’d be making a corkscrew hole in the ground.
The 310 was notorious for pitching up vigorously with the first 15 degrees of flap extension. You learned to deal with this during day VFR practice flights, and with enough exposure to this “feature,” coping with it was automatic. The 310, especially with its big tuna tip tanks filled to the brim, would wallow down final for the novice pilot, but experience, again, seemed to make that problem also disappear.
I had certainly made, and practiced, many go arounds in the 310, but apparently I’d never practiced a go around from such a slow speed, so close to the ground, and with the airplane trimmed for such slow flight. The pitch up was spectacular! At night, with no moon, and being over a very dimly lit Love Field, was the perfect place NOT to experience this for the first time.
This was my scariest flight because it wasn’t a failure in weather forecasting, or a failure of equipment, or a failure of air traffic control; it was a failure of me.
Runway 18 no longer exists at Love Field. I captured a 2004 archived image from Google Earth Pro (above) to show an approximation of what it looked like in 1978 when my memorable go around happened. I drew a yellow measurement line from the displaced threshold (it wasn’t displaced in 1978) to the intersection of 13L to show how much space there was. In calm, day VFR conditions, with the tower’s approval and an assurance that a go around wouldn’t be necessary, a 310 could make the turnoff for 13L.
But unless the wind was absolutely howling out of the south, who’d want to use 18? After the go around that night, I landed on 13L. As it would turn out, I never did take off or land on 18/36 at Love Field… I also never again deviated from my personal 120 MPH minimum approach speed in the 310.