|Close Calls: A Rookie Mistake|
|Written by Anthony Nalli|
Mont Tremblant is a quaint and beautiful resort town in Quebec. In the winter, Mont Tremblant is famous for its skiing, but the area is also a wonderful summer destination with a host of activities, including some incredible golf. Mont Tremblant International Airport is about a 45-minute drive to the north, but for private pilots, the summer season offers the convenience of a grass strip right in neighboring St-Jovite, only minutes away from the village.
Our pilot was a newly licensed private pilot with less than 100 hours. When thinking about a day-trip destination to fly his recently acquired Piper Cherokee, he decided on Mont Tremblant. Not only would he be able to add a few hours to his logbook, he’d even get in a round of golf with a friend.
About 30 miles from St-Jovite, our pilot began hearing position reports on the radio. He wasn’t able to understand the French language calls, but that didn’t stop him from making his own calls in English. His concern for the whereabouts of nearby traffic provided just enough distraction that our new pilot, without realizing it, started falling behind on the organization of his planned arrival.
Unfamiliar with the aerodrome to begin with and never having so much as spotted a grass strip, much less land at one, our pilot, despite his usually thorough pre-flight planning, began to feel a little overburdened as he began his descent into St-Jovite.
There were no replies to his request for an airport advisory but he had expected runway 20 so called “inbound to cross over the field for the turnaround, runway two zero.” He was approaching from the west, would cross over the airport, turn back, and then join mid-left downwind. That was his plan and he thought he had it all straight. But let’s review.
Approaching from the west, crossing then turning back over the airport — now westbound — then turning for the mid-left downwind — southbound, right? That would make final northbound? Not 20, but rather 02!
Our pilot’s turn calls continued, ending with “two zero” while all the while in the pattern for what was in fact zero two. On final and unwittingly downwind, about to make his first grass field landing, our pilot was further down the runway than he had hoped before the Cherokee’s wheels finally touched the ground. But that’s only where the excitement began.
With the end of the turf fast approaching and a forest just beyond that, he had to decide between hard braking (that he thought might be ineffective on the grass) or throttling back up to make use of his speed and going around. His still immature instincts chose the latter.
The 140 horses gave their all and the little Cherokee climbed as best it could, just edging into stall horn territory. With only feet to spare, our pilot cleared the treetops only to face his next obstacle: Mont Tremblant.
“I tried to keep the climb going as much as I could but had to point the nose down every few seconds to regain the speed I was bleeding off,” our pilot recounts. Within seconds (that seemed like minutes), the Cherokee finally cleared the mountain and leveled off.
Our pilot did his best to gather his thoughts and prepare for another attempt at the landing. He turned and entered the downwind leg for the same runway. Still calling it two zero (though it was zero two), and again with a tailwind on final, our pilot this time set the Cherokee down early enough on the turf that speed was no longer a factor as they coasted to the end of the runway.
Two people emerged from the airport office exclaiming, “We thought you were going to kill yourself!”
After realizing the significance of his geographic disorientation and the resultant avoidable (though nevertheless very real) dangers, our pilot mentally reenacted the scenario. “Boy, I’m very lucky to be able to have learned a lot from that simple, stupid mistake,” he admits. “From that moment on, I began mentally and visually mapping out my every arrival detail: headings, altitudes, everything!”
As has been often spoken by wise old pilots: never let your aircraft take you somewhere your brain didn't get to five minutes earlier. Our pilot seconds that.
From the May 2010 issue of Pipers
|Last Updated ( Friday, 11 February 2011 14:19 )|