by Chris Findley, CFI
Like so many flying yarns, this one could begin with, “There I was….”
Well, there I was on the ramp in Bowling Green, KY (BWG) with another pilot as we readied to depart on the short flight back to our home airport in Gallatin, TN (M33). We were watching a Cessna 172 land on the runway 3. There was quite a bit of traffic. After we landed, at least 2 other planes departed and a few others had landed. So it was a busy Sunday afternoon as pilots made the most of the gorgeous southern weather.
This 172 rounded out and, patiently waited for the flare. The pilot made a nice landing. It was then I heard another aircraft engine coming from a direction that was surprising….the OPPOSITE end of the same runway!
The Aeronica Chump, oops, I mean “Champ” must have discovered his error really late in his own approach. He made a hard right turn over our heads after flying the first third of the runway. Maybe it was the Cessna 172 still rolling out that got his attention. I’m sure it had the occupants of the Cesnna’s attention. I think I heard them ask the unicom if there was anyone on the field that cleaned upholstery. The Aeronica converted his missed approach into a midfield downwind (entering from the inside of the pattern) and landed without event on Runway 3– the approach end– the correct end.
We all make mistakes. I’ve made my share. Pilots know that we learn from our blunders and later, we share our stories to help others learn.
However, some goof-ups are easily avoidable and committing them can put others at significant risk. Approaching to land on the wrong end of the runway is one of them.
What could the pilot in the Aeronica have done differently?
1.) Listen— Before he could see the airport, he could have been listening to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). If he had done this, he would have heard the traffic landing and departing on 3.
2.) Ask— If in doubt ask. Ask another airplane in the pattern. Ask the UNICOM. Ask somebody.
3.) Observe— If 1 and 2 don’t bring clarification, or if the plane isn’t equipped with a radio, then stay outside of the pattern and observe for a few minutes. It’s worth the extra time and extra 1/10 of a gallon of fuel.
This is also a lesson for those of us on the ground and in the pattern. Always keep your head on a swivel! Look for other traffic, even and especially where you don’t expect it! Most everyone is taught to clear the final approach as they taxi into position for takeoff and to watch for traffic entering the pattern on the 45 downwind. But be always vigilant at every point in the pattern until you are on the ground and at the ramp.
Be Safe and Fly On!