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Your traffic is a turkeyYour traffic is a turkey

A 250-mile cross-country never struck me as an obstacle if Thanksgiving dinner awaited at one end, and a tote bag full of leftovers came home with me, with a turkey sandwich set aside for lunch aloft.

Photo by Mike Fizer

Late November in northern New England can be icy, so with only a modestly equipped fleet of lower-powered singles to rent, those flights were mostly a VFR proposition.

My usual route over the river and through some Class C airspace was a VOR-hop while getting flight following from various approach controls. They were pleasant company and rarely was there a gap in coverage. For a while, the go-to rental airplane was a Cessna 172, with the registration N54759 (now deregistered).

A short digression: For some holiday fun, speak the numbers “five four seven five nine” to someone as you would on the radio, then ask them to read them back. You may note a most astonishing phenomenon: On numerous flights I found that the person acknowledging my radio call would scramble the numbers, which usually came back as “five four seven four nine.” This would go on from sector to sector.

On one of those holiday-season cross-countries, not necessarily in N54759, I had an inoperative intercom and a lone scratchy comm radio, so I avoided busy airspace but tuned in airport control towers as I passed by.

In the area around Boston there are numerous towered general aviation airports that tend to be quite busy. That day one of those airports had plenty of traffic, and I was puzzled that it had numerous examples of an airplane type I had never heard of before: a Turkey. The airport had the usual assortment of GA traffic, but often an aircraft would be assigned to follow the Turkey or report the Turkey in sight.

I researched it when I got home and didn’t learn anything—even searching the index of Jane’s World Aircraft Recognition Handbook, which jumped from “Turbolet” to “Tutor.”

Then it hit me like a bird striking the windscreen: The combination of low altitude, fuzzy radio, and scratchy speaker makes the word “Cherokee” come across as “Turkey.”

That had to be it; never once did I hear the controller say “Piper,” or “Archer,” or any of the other designations of a PA–28 or PA–32-family airplane. And that airport did have many Cherokees based there; it wasn’t uncommon for their student pilots to show up at my field on solos.

That’s all long in the past, but a recent bit of unrelated research brought the elusive Turkey aircraft back to mind when I was reading an Aviation Safety Reporting System filing submitted by a new pilot to explain his role in a near-miss in an airport traffic pattern in Georgia.

Seems they have “Turkeys” there too—and down there they have two engines.

Cleared to land number three, “following a turkey,” the pilot looked for the two aircraft ahead. OK, there’s one on the runway, and there’s the other on final.

Turning from base to final, the pilot was shocked to see a twin slightly above and rapidly overtaking—evidently the bird in question (if the airplane on the runway didn’t count) although after additional research I remain unaware of a twin called a Turkey.

The pilot’s summary of lessons learned from the scary experience was both painful and amusing to read. One lesson was the deep regret at not knowing that there was a twin-engine airplane called a Turkey. The other lesson, offered to remedy the pilot’s self-deprecation, was a vow to pay visits “to small airports” to learn “more of those ‘TFC’ (traffic) names of different acft models.”

Good luck with that, I thought, if you’re flying with a radio like the one I had.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Travel

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