Closed runway
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Life was good. I was seventeen and a new high school graduate, working on my Private Pilot certificate at a small, privately owned aerodrome (N85) in northwestern New Jersey. It was time for my first solo cross-country. I had worked hard on my flight plan and proudly presented it to my young instructor. After a review he stated “excellent job!” I had already obtained my weather briefing with the Flight Service Station—severe VFR was forecast—and soon I was on my way.

The first stop was a small airport in eastern Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Diligently doing my pilotage along with dead reckoning, my first destination appeared over the horizon. I had done it! I was so excited to have navigated like a pro and nailed my first airport on my three leg journey.

I was soon downwind with a Cheshire cat grin on my face my only thought being what a great pilot I was to become. After a greased landing “Mr. Pro Pilot” taxied up to the FBO. Strangely, no one was there to greet me? It was mid-morning but all the doors were locked. Now what do I do?

Back in those days it was customary to have someone at the airport sign your logbook, testifying your arrival at each airport of your cross-country. No worries, I thought, I will just walk down the road and find a local resident to sign my logbook.

Closed runway

Wonder what that means?

Unfortunately this was farm country and after a long walk—near two miles by my estimation—I was knocking on the door of a quaint farmhouse. A pleasant Amish woman soon appeared. After explaining my predicament, she happily signed my logbook and I was soon on my way, hustling back to the airport for continuation of my cross-country.

When I arrived, the airport was still ghostly quiet with no one in sight. After a preflight I was soon in the air. Departing, I looked back over my shoulder at the airstrip. “What is that?” I exclaimed aloud. On both ends of the single runway were two giant white Xs.

I had landed on a closed runway! In my excitement locating the airport, my mind totally missed the obvious runway markings. Then it occurred to me that when I received my briefing from FSS, I forgot to ask for any NOTAMs. I was devastated. My flying career was over and all I could imagine was the FAA inspector waiting for me when I completed my cross-country back to my home airport.

The rest of my flight was uneventful and, to my surprise, no FAA inspector was waiting for me at my home base. I quickly sought out my flight instructor and explained my error. To my surprise he was not upset; in fact he said it was his fault for not knowing my first destination airport was closed. We then called FSS and yes there was a NOTAM for airport closure.

What are the lessons I learned? One, always ask for NOTAMs when obtaining a weather briefing. Two, flight instructors are human too and can make mistakes, just like you. Three, every flight has a lesson to learn!

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

Frank Humbles
Latest posts by Frank Humbles (see all)
9 replies
  1. Carson Wagner
    Carson Wagner says:

    Haha. As a student pilot, I can totally picture myself doing the exact same thing. You get so wrapped up in the excitement of your first solo cross-country that you brain is fogged. Thanks for sharing

  2. Mac McLauchlan
    Mac McLauchlan says:

    Jan 1982, a very long time ago, day job B737-236 Captain for BA, on leave in Kenya, with East African licence flew a friends Rockwell Commander 112 from Nairobi to a landing strip at Keekorok game reserve. As I had previously flown in Kenya with the RAF I used an old 1/2 mi map which showed my destination in 1962. Bad decision, airstrip still there now abandoned but destination had been changed to another field inside the game reserve. However r/t communication was made with the camp who unable to see either the airfield or my a/c gave taxi instructions which I followed as an idiot pilot who didn’t know we were on the wrong field. Thus when followed the taxi info came off the hard runway onto a long closed track and got stuck,alsoIt was raining hard. .So now in middle of unfamiliar East Africa and though certain of my position, also certain that no-one else was. What to do? When ground control and pilot both understood the situation, a truck with willing locals arrived, carefully supervised by wet pilot pushed my Commanderl back onto the hard runway, then left with wide smiles and a fistful of Kenya shillingi. Meantime my bright and still dry wife/copilot was contacted on VHF by a game warden on a nearby mountain who witnessing our arrival at a closed former field gave her instructions to aim for a saddle in the hills opposite and find our real destination beyond the gap. This we did, and landed after a low pass to move wildebeest off the runway. Next task for a pilot (male) is to urinate on the tyres, this ensures that hyenas do not chew the rubber, there were no spares in the bush. Not quite like airline flying in a Boeing, but good learning point, is the airfield still there?

  3. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    I once flew back on a long distance cross country flight from Colorado back to Chicago. I was grounded 3 days due to weather. Upon finally getting airborne, ATC directed me to a different airport. Numerous conversations, and they NEVER told me about the airport they were diverted me to, was closed! So I had to press on, and get fuel and have lunch at a different airport. Great…..

  4. Daniel Fregin
    Daniel Fregin says:

    Another NOTAM thing; Long time ago, going from Orland (037) to somewhere in the bay area, took my close enough to Travis AFB to see the big stuff there. Only this time when I was still around 15 miles away, an F-something came straight up in front of me doing a series of vertical rolls. Then I remembered something about air show weekend and figured it was trying to tell me something.

  5. RB
    RB says:

    Great story!
    I have one like that but is a bit too “fresh” to tell. I don’t want anybody coming after me for my idiotic mistake. In 30 years I’ll tell it like you did.
    Happy you were safe. Incidentally, why was the runway closed? Before taking back off I would have taxied the length to make sure wasn’t a hole at one end…

  6. Dwayne Mann
    Dwayne Mann says:

    Since I’m being completely honest, I’ve always presented this topic as “pitch to control airspeed,” but in the beginning of this summer I’ll be giving a significant amount of primary instruction slope game, and I plan to utilize the “aiming point for pitch attitude” method instead.

  7. TusPendejadas
    TusPendejadas says:

    TUS Pendejadas | Series y TSomos una pagina que comparte series y novela donde buscamos la comodidad de las personas y evitamos descargas innecesarias y .


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