February 1, 2005
Beth Ann Schneider
It was a beautiful spring day so I headed for Heber City Municipal-Russ McDonald Field in Heber, Utah, for a little pattern work in my Piper Clipper, N5773H. As a fairly new taildragger owner I have come to understand the true meaning of "practice makes perfect."
I arrived at the hangar just in time to see a fellow pilot readying his T-28 for his weekly flight. It is always an honor to share the sky with such a powerful airplane. I smiled as I watched him depart the field and I started my preflight.
Need to keep an eye out for him, I thought to myself, recalling his typical flight routine — a five- or 10-minute valley tour followed by an overhead approach. An overhead maneuver is often flown by pilots of high-performance military aircraft, such as the T-28. Generally the pilot enters the upwind leg directly over the airport slightly higher than pattern altitude. At a specific point the pilot initiates a 360-degree descending turn, in a 30-to-45-degree bank, to short final. The goal is to keep the touchdown point in sight all the way to the runway.
About 15 minutes later I got a positive radio check and headed down the ramp for a runup. When I was ready to go I called my departure on Runway 21 and started my takeoff roll. Shortly after liftoff I heard a garbled message from another aircraft apparently inbound.
"Aircraft calling Heber, unreadable. Clipper Seven-Three-Hotel departing two-one, staying in the pattern, Heber," was my response, and I started looking for traffic. No joy.
"Heber traffic, Clipper Seven-Three-Hotel turning left downwind for two-one, Heber," I called. Just as I made the turn I heard another unrecognizable transmission from the inbound aircraft. A few seconds later I spotted the T-28 on the upwind leg just off the end of the runway — about to begin the overhead maneuver. I was approaching midfield on the downwind leg — my timing could not have been worse.
"Clipper Seven-Three-Hotel is downwind for two-one," I announced with emphasis on the downwind. I was sure he had me in sight and assumed that he would modify his approach and follow my landing, giving me plenty of room.
What happened next was a terrifying series of events lasting no more than five or six seconds. Just as I was passing midfield on the downwind leg the T-28 pilot made a hard left turn onto the crosswind leg — at midfield at what looked like my altitude I was at his 12 o'clock position, 200 feet away, and he was closing in fast.
It's hard to believe I had time to think at all, but a few thoughts ran through my mind. He's going to buzz me...that SOB...no, he wouldn't do that.... Wait! He doesn't see me! I instinctively pushed the nose over and dove. Another second passed and I cringed at the precise moment I supposed he would clip my tail, certain that he would. When he didn't I shallowed my dive and called, "Where are you?" His response was inaudible. "You scared me," I said in a dazed monotone. Two clicks from his mic signaled that he had heard my transmission. Just then I caught a glimpse of him at 2 o'clock. I was badly shaken and still not sure whether he had intentionally buzzed me, or if I was just in the right place at a very wrong time. Settling my nerves, I repaired what was left of my pattern and completed my touch and go. The T-28 landed behind me with plenty of room to spare.
I completed two more rounds in the pattern, made a 20-minute tour of the valley, and landed full stop. By the time I pulled up to the front of my hangar I had convinced myself that he had not intentionally buzzed me. He is too good of a pilot for a stunt like that. I secured the Clipper and headed for his hangar. I think he was expecting me.
"I called downwind three times," I blurted out as soon as I saw him.
"I never heard you," came a humble reply.
"You didn't see me, did you?"
"No. I never heard you and I never saw you."
We had a friendly conversation about pattern altitudes and procedures, radio calls, and radio quality, both admitting we had something to learn from the incident.
Never again can have a couple of meanings. On the one hand it can mean, wow, that was a really dumb thing. I'll never do that again. Or, as in the case of this story, it can mean, never again will I take certain simple things for granted. For instance, never again will I assume that my radio calls are being heard, and never again will I assume another aircraft in the pattern sees me and will do what I expect it to do.
I have heard of traffic pattern collisions before, but not until my up-close and personal encounter with the T-28 did I really understand how they could happen.
Beth Ann Schneider, AOPA 1007738, is a private pilot. She owns a Piper Clipper.
You can find additional information on midair collisions at the following links:
Return to the "Never Again Online" main page.
Safety and Education,
Takeoffs and Landings,
With Super Bowl XLIX around the corner, AOPA sat down with the commander in charge of national air defense.
New draft airman certification standards are available for review on the FAA’s website. In addition to releasing the draft standards, the FAA also announced that it would be deleting questions from the private pilot airplane knowledge test, effective Feb. 9.
Tom Haines talks with NORAD Commander Adm. Bill Gortney about TFRs, fighter intercepts, and general aviation and Navy flying.
VOLUNTEER AT AN AOPA FLY-IN NEAR YOU!
SHARE YOUR PASSION. VOLUNTEER AT AN AOPA FLY-IN. CLICK TO LEARN MORE >>>
VOLUNTEER LOCALLY AT AOPA FLY-IN! CLICK TO LEARN MORE >>>
BE A PART OF THE FLY-IN VOLUNTEER CREW! CLICK TO LEARN MORE >>>