The Wisdom of the Old Buzzard


A couple weekends ago. I’m headed over to Sussex (N63) for a hundred dollar hamburger. It's a straight shot out the BDR 285 radial about 60 miles. I'm buzzing along westbound at 4500 MSL south of the Carmel VOR. Now I don't like being in that area north of HPN without having the reassuring voice of New York Approach whispering advisories in my ear. I call him up on 126.4 and he gives me a squawk code and advises radar contact established. Minutes later approach speaks up with my call sign:"Traffic eastbound one mile your twelve o'clock indicating 4500. If you don't have contact initiate immediate right turn and climb." Hey, I’m thinking, that's my altitude, as I more or less simultaneously reach for the throttle, start to crank in a right bank, and look for the interloper. And there he is, coming fast. A low-wing, white with red trim. My mental velocity vector processor quickly informs me that the dumb s.o.b. is going to miss me, but not by much. We pass port-to-port at the same altitude and about 200 yards separation. I call approach to say thanks and let him know what the actual separation has been. If that character's track had been just a little further North, the approach controller's traffic advisory could have made the difference between a really close call and that rarest of events, an en route midair collision. So the Old Buzzard's message here is simple: Get flight following as much and as often as you can. Asking is easy, they don't charge, and the butt you save may be your own!
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It's one of those foggy days at BDR when even the gulls are walking. I'm sitting around with my friend Pete swapping hangar flying stories and he recounts this tale of a time way back in his student days. Pete is doing bumps and circuits (like the Brits say) with his CFI on Runway 29. The instructor, to demonstrate one of the finer points, says "Let me take this one." Pete says "Your airplane" and settles back to watch. Mind you, both of these guys are now focused on the technique of this here landing. They get down into ground effect and the CFI is flaring the airplane. As they get to the intersection with 24 the airplane suddenly rolls about 60 degrees starboard and gets blown off the right side of the runway. Kinda makes their hearts go thumpety-thump! Well, Pete figures he's here to tell me the story because that day the CFI is both good and quick. He's at full power and leveling the wings and going around in about the time it takes Pete to go "Whatthehellwasthat!?" Come to find out, while they were on base the tower clears a Dash 7 for takeoff from 24, the intersecting runway. The Dash 7 is a big airplane with an absolutely hellacious wake. If the deHavilland's on 29, the controller issues a wake turbulence warning. But since it's on 24, that's not required. Pete’s message is this: No matter how interesting it is inside the airplane, you have to stay aware of all your surroundings. The controller is there to help, but you gotta be alert and maintain situational awareness! So get your head outside and THINK.
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I’m up in the club office one day, enjoying the stale coffee and watching the wonderful world of aviation unfold out the window. Here comes ol’ Grover in his Skyhawk, ‘44Romeo, pulling up to his parking space which he overshoots by four feet, as usual. He gets out, shaking his head over the mis-alignment of aircraft and parking space. I’m waiting for Grover to duck under the wing, drape his 200 pounds over the stabilizer and shove the ol’ girl’s tailfeathers over so she’s pointed where he wants her to go. But, no-o-o! Wonder of wonders, he fishes around in the cabin and out comes a towbar! He hooks the towbar up and steers the nose gear with it while pushing on the prop in close to the spinner. Now, I’ve never seen good technique from Grover before, so I figure something happened and I contrive to "run into" him before he gets out of the FBO. "Grove’," I say, "what’s with the towbar routine parking the airplane? I ain’t seen you do that before." "Geez, Buzz," Grover starts in, shaking his head mournfully, "I just got her back from annual and they soaked me over 500 bucks to replace a rib and some skin on the stabilizer. They shown me where it was broke, right where I always used ta’ push down on it!" So I smile as I turn away. Been telling ol’ Grove’ that for years. NOW HEAR THIS: Use the Towbar! Do NOT lean on the stabilizer of the Cessna to move the tail sideways. You WILL break the airplane! OK?
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It’s a nice early spring day at the airport and I’m walking out to the ramp to preflight the aircraft. It’s medium busy - there’s a Cessna on short final, looks like one of the Caravans turning base, nobody on the downwind. Of course there’s no way I can’t stop in my tracks and watch the landings -- never get tired of watchin’ airplanes land. It’s a puffy kind of day and the guy on final has some work to do...he’s a little high over the threshold and he pulls the power and starts to sink, then -- I guess we’ve all done it -- he bounces pretty good. He comes back down, on the mains not the nosegear (whew!) but there’s this s-c-r-e-e-c-h and a puff of blue smoke! Ooh, I hate that sound! Our friend (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) has gotten his (her?) foot (feet?) on the brakes while airborne. This has resulted in applying another black stripe to the surface of Runway 29, and probably in the junking of another aircraft tire. These little rubber doughnuts are a lot more expensive than the tires on your Toyota! The demonstration I describe here isn’t the only technique for shredding tires! There’s taxiing too fast and havin’ to nail the brakes...and even pivoting the aircraft on one main when cornering. All bad ideas! And by the way...in case the previous user of the airplane has screwed up a tire, you better roll her half a tire during preflight. Funny how the worn spot is usually on the bottom!
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My friend Jerry is going on the other day about the new airplane his flying club has picked up. Now, I know that these guys have been Cessna drivers and the new bird is a low-wing job. So I ask Jerry how he feels about the transition. "Hey," he says, "it’s a wing, right? What’s the difference whether it’s on top or on the bottom?" "Yeah, in lots of ways that’s true," I answer, "but let me ask - when you flew the Cessna how often did you switch tanks?" He looks at me like I’m nuts. "Never. You check the selector is on Both and that’s that." "Uh-huh. But your new plane don’t got no Both. It’s got Left and Right but no Both. Now you gotta think about Fuel Management." "Whaddya mean Fuel Management", Jerry asks, interested now. So I tell him. "Jer’, Fuel Management is what you do so you don’t wind up like those guys you read about in the NTSB reports. You know the ones - where it says ‘Fuel Selector was at Left, less than one gallon of fuel found in Left tank, 17 gallons were recovered from the Right tank.’ Fuel Management is developing whatever habits you have to so that every 20 or 30 minutes, without fail, its ‘Boost pump ON - Switch tanks - Boost pump OFF.’" "Remember," I point out, "Silence may be Golden, but it sure makes your heart go pitty-pat when you’re cruisin’ along at 3500 MSL and the airplane gets r-e-a-l-l-l-y quiet. Save your non-powered time for the Glider Rating."
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I’m in the club office the other day just lookin’ out the window and listenin’ to the tower frequency when two pretty good sized dogs wander into view. Just trottin’ along, havin’ a good old time together. The mutts head out toward Runway 29 which happens to be active. I think, "Uh-oh", and turn for the telephone to call the tower as the pooches are crossing taxiway Delta. Before I can grab the phone I hear tower say to the guy on his takeoff run, "35Romeo, dogs on right side of runway!" I turn back to the window as the doggies get to the middle of the runway and 35Romeo, a Cessna 172, approaches from the left. "Oh, my", I think, "this could get messy." The pilot of 35Romeo proceeds to do everything just right. He sees the animals, rotates early. He has some speed so the Skyhawk pops off, but the pilot holds her down in ground effect. The right gear misses the lead dog by maybe three feet. 35Romeo accelerates to flying speed and then pitches up and climbs out. I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding as I hear, "Tower, 35 Romeo, thanks for the warning on the dogs." By this time the airport ground crew is headed out for some serious dog wrangling. We often sweat the landings and treat the takeoffs as routine -- but you never know! So don’t fixate on the airspeed indicator or on the runway centerline. Someday, peripheral vision, quick thinking and a hand on the throttle will keep you and the airplane in one piece.
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This page last edited: 10/06/99

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