Tailwheeler’s Journal #8
Aerial Road Rage
I’d decided that the next Tailwheeler’s Journal would be concerned with a topic that was related to tailwheel flying. I’d strayed from it a little lately and I felt that my readers expected and deserved articles that stayed on that subject. But then I had this experience and had to get something off my chest.
It was a pretty good soaring day. We’d gotten off tow at about 6,500 and had gradually worked our way up to 8,500 or so. I was flying with a friend who is a pretty good stick. He’d decided to get an added glider rating and had come to Sunriver Soaring for instruction. We were flying the big yellow 2-32 in which I fly rides. He was doing a pretty good job of staying in lift and I was leaving him alone to get comfortable in this relatively new kind of flying. I was happy to be flying with someone who was demonstrating good stick and rudder skills. Then I heard the radio: “aircraft at the intersection, this is Cherokee one two three alpha hotel. I’m on final, please don’t enter the runway.”
It wasn’t a terribly unusual call, and I still wasn’t paying much attention to it. I could look down on the Sunriver Airport from my perch and see that the aircraft who was the intended recipient of the call must not have heard it because he entered the runway and was on the roll.
The Cherokee pilot who I had first heard was suddenly deeply offended that someone had ignored his presence (and more importantly his radio calls) and entered the runway ahead of him.
“Cherokee one two three alpha hotel is going around to avoid that idiot in front of me!”
Now, that got my attention. What followed were a few more transmissions berating the NORDO aircraft departing. The Unicom operator got sucked into the conversation. I don’t know why; it wasn’t his problem. But he was someone to whom the Cherokee pilot could complain. After a few more protestations and insults on the part of the Cherokee pilot, I keyed my mic: “Gentlemen, let’s discuss this on the ground”. I didn’t identify myself. Transmissions stopped and that was the end of the diatribe.
I had been happy in the tranquility of my soaring. The radio had been a necessary interruption to that tranquility. At a reasonable volume I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me. But that Cherokee pilot had really pissed me off and now I found that I was angry. I wasn’t angry at the “idiot” in that unidentified departing aircraft. He had operated legally without an operating radio at an uncontrolled airport without a lot of traffic. He had made one mistake. He failed to see the approaching Cherokee before he took the runway. Had he looked up-range for traffic? One of my crew at the intersection saw him taxi out and said that he did look both ways. Had he had a radio with the volume turned down so that he thought he had comms? I don’t know. No one heard a transmission. He may have made one mistake that many of us have made and many more will make, but that’s not the point. Safety wasn’t the issue. No one was put in harm’s way. The departing pilot wasn’t the villain. In my opinion that Cherokee pilot was unmistakably
the villain. He made his approach with the other aircraft in sight. With no communications coming from that aircraft, he should have been prepared for a runway incursion. His anger at having to initiate a go around was un-called for. His rudeness and willingness to discuss the perceived slight on the radio was inexcusable. Actually, I think he actually enjoyed this chance to be dramatic, not realizing that he was being a dramatic jerk. His mother and his flight instructor should both be ashamed of him… or themselves if they allowed that kind of behavior.
Aviation can bring out the worst in many people. Years ago, the Disney Studio made a driving safety cartoon featuring Goofy (my hero) as a guy who, as “Mr. Walker”, is mild mannered, kind and sweet. But when he gets in his car he becomes “Mr. Wheeler”, an angry misanthropic individual who hollers at everyone in his way and is the archetypical source of “road rage”. Many pilots become “Mr. Wheeler” when in an aircraft. They feel that they are incredibly important because they fly (they probably wear large watches). They feel that anyone who doesn’t follow the rules that they learned is incompetent. The flying world is full of them. They are fools.
Don’t expect other pilots to cooperate with your planned flight. You can’t change their operations whether or not they are ill-advised. But you CAN alter YOUR behavior and the way you handle unexpected situations. A go around is not an emergency and someone “cutting you off” is not a slap in the face. Go around if you must. Prepare for the unexpected situations that can arise and pride yourself on the ability to do so with skill and equanimity. If you can’t alter your plan without getting upset about it, perhaps you should pursue a different method of transportation. That Cherokee pilot may have thought the other pilot was an “idiot”, but in my opinion that Cherokee might as well have been towing a banner that said “IDIOT” with an arrow pointing at the plane towing it. He probably dines with his hat on, too.
I promise that the next issue will deal with tailwheel flying.
Tailwheeler’s Journal #8