When we were younger and had been driving for a few very short years, my brother and I often found the habits of other drivers to be infuriating. Like the old duffer who comes out of his garage in the morning and leaves his blinker on for the day of driving, only to turn it off that evening when he’s all done driving. People who drove slowly in the fast lane, signaled left, and then turned right, those who turned in front of us and then slammed on the brakes, leaving us to stew in their exhaust… all of them were sent to screw with us. And who dispatched them? Why, “Nosepicker Control” of course! We imagined a huge tower somewhere with controllers watching those drivers and dispatching them just to screw with us!
It’s occurred to me that we in aviation have a version of nosepicker control. It’s called the “Acme Flying School”. Students of “Acme” fly huge patterns, put their flaps down early, slow to approach speed about twenty miles out and generally get in our way. After all, we at Tailwheel Town fly tiny patterns, short approaches and know how long it takes to slow to approach speed from cruise. As a result, our flights are extremely efficient. And when one of those “Acme” types gets in front of us in a pattern, you can hear us grumbling clear down at the FBO! Y’see, some of us were taught a rule early on in our aeronautical training. That rule is that once you are in the pattern, you MUST be able to glide to the runway. I guess none of the aeronautical nose-pickers have heard of that rule.
But should we really grumble about someone who has devised a test for our ability? Do we grumble when a CFI or a DPE fails an engine or creates a simulated emergency just at the most awkward of times? Of course not. So maybe we should look at the Acme fliers a bit differently. Maybe we should view their sudden appearance in our pattern as a test. Instead of cursing their attempt to sucker us into extending our downwind so that we don’t have a hope in hell of gliding to the runway in the event of an engine failure, perhaps we should take advantage of that interruption to deal with it creatively.
Let’s take the most common way in which they mess with us. It’s the big pattern. Let’s say we’re number two in the pattern with both of us on the downwind. The Acme guy is number one, but just keeps his power up and keeps on going, passing that point abeam the numbers when we’d have closed our throttle and started to think about turning base. Before very long at all, neither of us will be able to glide to a landing… we’re simply too far downwind. He’s in worse shape than we are because he started extending his flaps on downwind. Before very long, he’s dependent on power to make it to the runway. We can follow him, grumbling all the way about the fact that he’s forced us into this dangerous position… or we can deal with it and stay safe! Hmmm, how can we do that? Two ways: we can slow to minimum controllable airspeed and we can climb. One thing that Acme will NEVER do is slow to VMC at pattern altitude! That would be inviting catastrophe!!! And considering that we normally fly our downwind leg significantly lower than they do, it’s a double “don’t do”! We do it anyway because we are capable of it. One or both of those moves can keep us within gliding distance to the runway, one by increasing our altitude and the other by slowing our groundspeed. We can even do both of them simultaneously, increasing the complexity of the maneuver and calling upon us to exercise even greater skill. And, if we can maneuver so that we are right on his butt, when we land, we can then make an early turn on the “go” and end up in front of him! That’s kinda fun! It’s always a good idea to talk to him on the radio and assure him that we’re not really interfering with his chosen pattern at all.
I once had an airline captain who, when asked to get right on someone’s butt on final, said, “Gee, I always wanted to do this, but can’t get away with it on the job!”
Using such a method, we’ve changed a frustrating situation into one which we can take advantage of in order to increase our skills. And with the extra time we often have on the downwind, we can crane our necks and search for the “Nosepicker Control Tower”. It’s gotta be around there somewhere!