BY DOUG STEWART
“. . .shall become familiar with all available information…” The first day after my arrival home from EAA AirVenture Oshkosh ’07, with virtually no time to savor all the wonderful experiences of that annual pilgrimage, I found myself in my office, catching up on phone messages and mail as I awaited the arrival of two clients in their Cardinal, who were to begin their training for the commercial certificate. I had my handheld transceiver turned on to monitor the UNICOM frequency and thus give me a heads-up on their imminent arrival. Prior to tuning to the UNICOM frequency I had listened to the automated weather observation system (AWOS), not only to see if my weather observations matched those of the robot stationed at the north end of the field, but also to see if any of the pre-recorded announcements had changed. Indeed, nothing had changed there. The usual announcement of Runway 21 being the preferred calm-wind runway remained the same. As well, the notice to airmen (NOTAM) regarding the UNICOM frequency change that had become effective back in the beginning of March was still being broadcast. When I heard my client announce entering the 45 degree for the downwind to Runway 21, I headed out to the ramp. Sure enough, the windsock was hanging quite limply, so my client had made the proper choice of runway. But as I continued my survey of the field, I noticed a Super Cub turning base to final for Runway 03. Most Super Cubs have radios, but I didn’t hear this pilot announce any of his intentions. Perhaps this was one of those tailwheel pilots who doesn’t like to use the radio unless he has to. Or perhaps it was a NORDO (no radio) Super Cub. Whatever the case, the pilot certainly seemed to know how to fly his airplane as he executed a beautiful short-field landing, touching down on his large tundra tires in a perfect three-point landing. As the Cub taxied up to the self-serve fuel pump I strolled in that direction. (By now, my inbound client was on a mid-field downwind for Runway 21.) As I approached the Cub, it looked very familiar, and I
30 OCTOBER 2007
realized that the pilot of this PA-18 had been a former client of mine. Indeed he had been one heck of a challenge for me, as an instructor. His stick and rudder skills were wonderful, so that had not been the challenge. What had been a Sisyphean chore for me was trying to help this pilot in overcoming his hazardous attitudes. At the forefront of these was his anti-authority attitude. Prior to coming to me as a student pilot, he had been flying all over the place, without any current endorsements, and furthermore, carrying passengers. It was difficult getting through to him that his actions would be frowned upon by the FAA. He feigned having difficulty understanding why he couldn’t fly his Cub, minus a transponder, over Class C airspace. I could continue the list but would run out of space before I finished. The pilot, who shall remain anonymous, climbed out of the Cub with an excited, “Hey, Doug. Check out the mods I’ve done to my Cub!” He was eager to show me not only a new 200-hp Lycoming engine, but also all the improvements to his panel. It was no longer a NORDO Cub, what with some of the latest and greatest in small, space-saving avionics now installed in his airplane. Not only a transceiver and transponder graced the panel, but a panel-mounted Garmin 496 was there, as well. As I walked up to get a closer look my clients were now touching down on Runway 21. The pilot of the Cub said to me: “Can you believe those folks in that airplane that just landed. They not only didn’t announce a single word on the UNICOM, but they landed on the wrong runway as well. Someone should say something to them before they hurt somebody!” “Sam,” (I won’t use his real name here) “what frequency were you on?” I asked. “122.8,” he replied. “Uh . . . did you listen to the AWOS before you got here?” I now asked. “No, I just came overhead and looked at the sock . . . you know those AWOS things . . . can’t ever trust ’em,” he responded. “And what was the sock doing when you looked at it?” was my next question. “Hanging limp,” he said.
“Well, Sam, if you had listened to the AWOS, in addition to all the pertinent weather information, like the ceiling, winds, and altimeter setting, you would have also heard that the preferred calm-wind runway is Runway Two One. And if you had listened further, you would have heard that ‘effective March 1, 2007, the new UNICOM frequency for the airport is 123.05.’ It’s been changed for five months now, Sam.” A pained look of embarrassment started to spread across Sam’s face. “And even if you hadn’t listened to the AWOS, if you had looked at a current sectional . . . Uh . . . you do have one, don’t you, Sam? The new ones came out back in the beginning of May . . . you would have seen the new frequency published there.” I hoped I was having some impact. “But Doug, I looked up the frequency on my new GPS,” he proudly said, “and it had 122.8 there, too.” “Well, Sam, is your database current? Let me check,” I said, as I climbed into his cockpit, turned on the master switch, then the avionics switch, and watched as the Garmin 496 came to life and annunciated the database date as August 2006. “Sam, your GPS database is a year old. Don’t you think it’s time to update it before it leads you into some serious trouble? Well, these are my clients taxiing in here. I’ve got to go now. It looks like not too much has changed over the years, has it? Oh well . . . keep your airspeed up.” But you know, the real sad thing is that “Sam” is not alone! It is almost a daily occurrence that someone lands at the airport, against the flow of all other traffic but oblivious to it, not only because they aren’t using the most important piece of equipment in their cockpit, their eyes, but because they are on the wrong frequency. I hate to say it, but I sadly fear that it is only a matter of time before there is a head-on collision between aircraft on the runway. When we wake up and realize that almost every regulation is there to try and save us from our own ignorance, then we might start to pay a little more attention. Like FAR 91.103, Preflight Action, which states, in part, “Each Pilot In Command shall become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” (Capital letters are my emphasis.) The FARs mention specifically that this includes “Runway lengths at airports of intended use, as well as takeoff and landing distance information,” and “if under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel require-
ments, alternatives available….” Nothing is said, specifically, in 91.103, about NOTAMs, which might include frequency changes; navaid outages; airport closures, both temporary as well as permanent; fuel availability, or the lack thereof; the activity of SUA (special use airspace); and that old bugaboo, especially post September 11, TFRs. Nothing is mentioned, specifically, in the FAR, about having current publications, such as a current chart and Airport/Facility Directory (A/ FD). Need I continue the list? I know of several pilots who not only don’t have a current chart with them, but also never have an A/FD on board, current or otherwise. They choose to rely on their GPS for “all their available information,” but then only bother to update the database on their GPS on a once-a-year basis, if that. They use the excuse of not calling for a briefing, because the “wait times are ridiculous, now that Lockheed Martin has taken over.” (This is probably true, but these pilots never called for a briefing, even back in the good old days before the FAA sold out the flight service stations.) And they don’t own or know how to use a computer, so they aren’t getting their preflight briefings from DUATS either. These are the same pilots that bemoan the “ever tightening restrictions” the FAA is placing on general aviation, and gripe that the FAA is taking all the fun out of flying. I must admit that there are times when I have these same thoughts, but I also realize that so many of these regulations were “written in blood” and only came about as a way to preserve our lives. There is nothing in aviation that is static, save for some of the displays that we might see in a museum. Everything else in aviation is dynamic. Things change. Obviously the weather probably heads the list, but frequencies, airspace, airports, navaids, technology…the list could go on for quite a bit…are all susceptible to change. That is why it behooves each and every one of us to find out all that we possibly can about our flights, prior to every single flight that we make. So please be sure, when blue skies and tail winds are beckoning you to be airborne, that you have obtained all available information prior to your flight.
When we wake up and realize that almost ever y
regulation is there to tr y and save us from our own
ignorance, then we
might start to pay a
little more attention.
Doug Stewart is the 2004 National CFI of the Year, a NAFI Master Instructor, and a designated pilot examiner. He operates DSFI Inc. (www.DSFlight.com) based at the Columbia County Airport (1B1).
VINTAGE AIRPLANE 31