Tag Archives: little plane

Size does not matter

There is always that little innuendo when discussing the question if size matters.

But I don’t want to get into this, even though I chose that headline to get your attention – – did work if you are reading this, didn’t it?

So, take a look at this one example where size does not matter…

Before the mighty FAA, we are all created equal. Once you have your clearance, it’s yours. You might give it up to let a big guy with 300 passengers go first, as these big guys are probably burning a lot more fuel on idle than I in my single-engine plane will use for a whole trip.

Two tales come to mind. One was that of a flight instructor telling the story at the Pilot’s Co-Op of catching a ride on a business jet once and how the crew was treated to a nice dinner at the FBO when they stopped somewhere for gas. It was only when he saw the bill did he understand why they had been treated so royally.

In the other story, I was a participant myself. It was right after my primary training that I advanced from the Piper Tomahawk to a Warrior at the Pilot’s Co-Op. My instructor, during the checkout on that new type of plane, put me through the paces of practicing my landings. Our airport, Burbank, has intersecting runways. One of them – 15 – was often used for commercial traffic. If there was a 737 ready for take-off on runway 15 and another – smaller – plane on approach to runway 8, the departing plane, and all its 150+ passengers, had to wait. Runway 8 is very long and the length from touch down to the intersection with runway 15 was plenty enough for a little plane to touch down, stop, and leave the runway so they never crossed 15. So, it was customary that traffic control asked the landing traffic if they were able to land short of 15, meaning they had no intention of getting to or even crossing runway 15. If the landing traffic confirmed that they would not get to runway 15, the tower could let the big iron take off on runway 15 while the landing traffic was still on approach to runway 8.

That was standard operating procedure, but now yours truly, a new pilot being checked out at a new airport and on a new plane, enters the picture. On approach to runway 8 for the fifth or so time, I confirmed that I would hold short of 15 and so the tower controller gave takeoff clearance to the Southwest 737 and it started rolling on runway 15, the runway I had promised not to cross or in any way to mess with.

Just then my flight instructor, who I was so glad to have had with me, made the decision that I had messed up the approach – I was too high or too slow or both, floating too far down the runway. He grabbed the yoke – MY PLANE!, pushed the throttle to the firewall, and keyed the mike: “Tower, Cherokee 888 going around!!”

Now that was not good. The 737 was rolling towards the intersection and we, in our little tin can, were now climbing out over runway 8 towards the intersection with runway 15.

Tower: “Southwest 114 ABORT – Southwest 114 ABORT!”

All went well, the 737 stopped before the intersection and we sailed unscathed across the intersection. I was too busy digesting all this so I did not take a good look into the cockpit of the 737 that was sitting right there on my left side. But I could imagine that the pitch of the captain’s voice might not have been as low as it usually was.

We got the expected call from the tower: “Cherokee 888, Tower, contact the tower after landing!” Was I glad that I was only the student, and my instructor legally the pilot in command! A bit after we landed and tied down, I saw my instructor on the phone with the tower – very meek and apologetic – rather different than his usual boisterous self. Fortunately for him, he got off with a warning.

It was a big story at the Pilot’s Co-Op and many guesses were made about how much money in kerosine this incident had cost Southwest. I mostly felt with the poor passengers who did not really know what was happening: the usual bit of anticipation or fear at the takeoff roll and then suddenly screeching brakes – it might have convinced some never to fly again.

I myself only had one instance of “Call the tower after landing!” after hearing “Cleared for takeoff” while the tower had told me “In position and hold”. I was able to weasel myself out with the excuse that I was going someplace further away and could truthfully tell the controller that his tower would be closed when I returned. So, he just scolded me a bit and told me to listen better next time.