May 1, 2012
By Thomas B Haines
With the Adam A500 twin established on final to Lakeland Linder Regional's Runway 9R, I selected gear down and surveyed the airport complex before me. Normally Runway 9R is simply Runway 9, but during the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In the parallel taxiway becomes Runway 9L. Lighter airplanes arriving and departing use the taxiway. Heavier airplanes and—back when this occurred—demonstration airplanes use the “real” runway. Ahead of me was the beehive of activity that makes up the largest aviation show in the Southeast. Sun ’n Fun is just that—sun and fun; a welcome break from winter and a great deal of fun, as well as a remarkable way to kick off the flying season each spring.
As we descended toward this aviation Mecca, I prepared for my first landing in the Experimental centerline-thrust twin. When arriving at busy aviation shows where multiple airplanes are landing and taking off down the length of the pavement, you have to be prepared for anything, so I was spring loaded for a go around, but even as prepared as I thought I was, it took me a moment to comprehend what was happening before me. A tailwheel airplane (I was too busy to notice what type it was) that had landed just ahead of me—ever so slowly, as if it were in slow motion—pitched forward and to the right, the right wing tip catching the pavement in a perfect demonstration of a ground loop. With that, the airplane spun around and people started running toward it.
As I was just beginning to grasp all of this, the tower called me with an urgent command to “Go around.” Throttles up, pitch up, and away we went, the A500 strutting its stuff. Fortunately, the tailwheel airplane sustained minimal damage, and no one was hurt. Meanwhile we headed for Lake Parker, the holding pattern for use when Sun ’n Fun arrivals get backed up. There, we mixed it up with all manner of aircraft while things got sorted out back on the ground.
It’s not the first time I found myself circling a lake while waiting to land at a big airshow. Years earlier, I was on the famous (some might say infamous) arrival to AirVenture—only then it was called the EAA Convention—at Oshkosh. Our Piper Saratoga was stuffed top to bottom with people and gear, and it was my first landing at Oshkosh during the show. The procedure was to head single-file to the town of Ripon and then turn toward Fisk, another point en route to the airport. However, things were getting a little busy on the procedure as I followed a Cessna 182. About then a controller called “Big Piper behind the Cessna, make a left and circle the lake.” In this case, Green Lake was the holding pattern, and so around we started—so close yet so far to that aviation Mecca.
In the years since, I’ve flown into dozens of aviation events, frequently flying in the vicinity of airplanes with quite different capabilities—some slower, some faster—but all needing to safely arrive on the same strip of pavement. The trick is your ability to fly your airplane safely near the edge of its limits, especially at the slow end of the flight envelope, while also carefully looking out for other airplanes and following a written procedure. Here is where a second set of eyes is of immense help, and almost required equipment. Besides, who wants to experience the fun and excitement of flying to one of these events all alone?
Another important skill is listening. Too frequently, pilots ignore the instructions in most procedures to simply monitor the frequency and listen for instructions from spotters on the ground. They instead attempt to “check in,” which frequently overwhelms the frequency and leads to confusion.
As the flying season kicks off, nab a flight instructor and practice some slow flight and short-field takeoffs and landings. Spend a little time perusing the Air Safety Institute’s long list of interactive courses for subjects related to knocking off the rust (there are many), and you’ll emerge more confident and capable as you experience one of the best uses of a GA airplane—flying to one of the big airshows.
I’ll look forward to seeing you there.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter: tomhaines29.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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