The Wild, Wild West

by John House

I’ve spent a significant part of my life at airports. I literally grew up at an airport and was at one point the manager of arguably the busiest GA airport in the Sacramento area. Sadly, that airport is long gone and to a certain extent the reason it’s gone is pilot behavior. To a large degree, the general public thinks “those little airplanes are not just noisy but dangerous.” It is imperative those of us who fly to be mindful of flying both safely and conscientiously.

How many of you have heard the saying, “Plus 3/minus 8”? Here is a hint: It refers to the time where 80% of aircraft accidents occur. It means
the first 3 minutes and the last 8 minutes of flight. Those 11 minutes are in and around airports and more specifically the airport traffic pattern.

We learned – or should have – all about traffic patterns in the first few lessons during our primary flight training. We learn about upwind, crosswind, downwind, base and final legs. We learned about 45° entries , teardrop, straight in as well as right or left patterns and at what altitudes patterns should be flown.

At KLHM, we have all manner of aircraft using the pattern. Everything from light-sport, gyrocraft, Piper Cubs and even Gulfstream G-600 (yep, just last week). The point is, to be safe we all need to use the traffic pattern responsibly. Fly the pattern the way you learned when you first slipped “the surly bonds of earth.”

In general, enter the pattern in level flight at pattern altitude and maintain that altitude until abeam your touchdown spot on the runway. Start your decent and when you reach a point about 45° from your touchdown spot make your turn to base leg. Don’t overshoot the extended centerline of the runway when you make your turn to final. If you’re remaining in the pattern, maintain runway heading until you’re past the departure end of the runway and within 300 feet of pattern altitude before turning crosswind.

You’re the Ace of the Base and you know all this so why am I wasting your time? Over the past week alone I’ve seen some interesting things. I watched (video recorded too) a biplane doing circuits around the airport at about 300 feet with the downwind leg over Tony K’s hangar. I watched and heard a Bonanza scream into the pattern and shove the prop pitch into high RPM then jerk the power back as he blew by an Aeronca already on downwind. I watched a Cherokee cross midfield at 2,500 and do a descending teardrop right over the departure end of the runway. Today, I got stuck behind a Cessna B-52 that turned base three miles (yes 3 miles) from the end of the runway.

But wait, there’s more. Bruce, Tony and others watched a Cessna 182 with a flight instructor and student practice an emergency landing by intentionally setting up and landing on the taxiway going against the traffic already in the pattern. When they were politely queried about the instructor expounded his teaching methods as preparation for emergencies. Sure glad Hans was not instructing in the R-22 as he uses the taxiway for approach to the helipad. A windshield full of Skylane would be at least an 8 on the Pucker Factor Scale.

Flying the pattern at Lincoln at times feels like an E-ticket ride at Disneyland (are you old enough to remember those?) The FAA in both the Airplane Flying Handbook and the Airman’s Information Manual (AIM) as well as ALL primary flight training manuals detail a standard traffic pattern to assure that air traffic into and out of an airport moves safely. All of us should have a look to at least refresh ourselves. Remember, Lincoln (KLHM) is not an uncontrolled airport. It is a non-towered airport.

Okay, so what’s the point I’m trying to make? I lived through the death of an airport. It was like losing a brother. Look out the window as you overfly KLHM and see all the homes encroaching into what was until recently farmland/ranchland. Look at the city plans for development around the airport. I see so many parallels to what I lived through. I don’t want to see it again. Heaven forbid we have a midair and an aircraft ending up in a neighborhood. That would be a tragedy on all counts. That would surely get our new neighbors organized to fight against the airport.

Last Minute Update!!
Stupid is as Stupid does. On Saturday I witnessed a blue on blue with blue Piper PA28R land downwind, against traffic, on taxiway Alpha. I recognized the aircraft because I have flown in it and it appears to have had the same flight instructor at the controls. There is no doubt in my mind I witnessed a 14 CFR 91.13 violation and therefore felt compelled to file a complaint with the FAA. I don’t like to “rat-out” a fellow pilot
but I’d rather do it than try to explain to a love one that “we all knew he was going to kill someone.” KLHM is a very busy airport with four fixed wing and one rotor-craft flight schools in addition to home for hundreds of GA aircraft. It is no place for careless and reckless operations.

Fly Safe.