I decided that since my first novel is an airplane story, I should relate some of my flying stories. This happened about 10 years ago, but it’s still fresh in my memory. It was the day that I almost had a twin as a hood ornament.
I had rented a Cessna 172 from the local FBO at Reid Hillview airport in San Jose, CA. It was kind of a clunker, but the engine was strong, and the wings seemed to be attached pretty well, so I decided to head south for some landing practice.
About 20 miles South is an airport known in the local pilot circles as South County. I think it relates to the fact that it is at the southern edge of Santa Clara county, but I could be wrong about that. It’s located right next to Highway 101 in the city of San Martin.
The airport has a fair bit of local traffic, but not enough to warrant a control tower. It’s therefore known as an uncontrolled airport. Traffic to and from the airport talk to each other on a common frequency that’s been assigned to that airport.
As I got within a few miles of the airport I dialed in the appropriate frequency and announced that I was approaching the airport on the 45 for runway 32. I waited for a response, but heard nothing. I scanned the immediate area but I saw no other planes in any direction.
I scanned down below and located the windsock so that I could verify the wind direction. I saw that the direction of the wind favored landing on runway 14. I changed course to fly parallel to the runway so that I could enter the 45 for runway 14 and started my descent to pattern altitude. As I entered the downwind leg of my landing I got on the radio again and announced my position. At the base turn I did the same. When I was on final I yakked on the radio one final time letting everyone in the area know my position.
I greased the wheels on the runway, applied full power, slowly removed the flaps, and prepared to climb out. I was just doing touch and goes today, so there was no reason to land completely. After about 5 touch and goes, announcing my position on the radio every time, I prepared for my sixth landing.
I once again announced on the radio I was downwind, turning base, and finally on final. I was about 100 ft altitude, airplane fully dirty (power off, flaps at 30 degrees, airspeed at 1.3Vso), when I noticed something at the far end of the runway. There was a medium size twin engine plane landing the other way, coming directly at me.
Luckily I didn’t hesitate, but jammed in full power, slowly dumped the flaps, and started a climbing turn to the right. At first the other pilot must not have seen me, but when he did, it was like he didn’t know which way to go. I was taught to always go right, and that’s what I did. The other guy jinked left, right, left again, and finally turned right. By this time I was away from the airport and climbing, but it was still kind of funny to watch.
Amazingly enough all of the sudden I now hear someone on the radio asking which runway was in use. Well imagine that, now he wants to talk on the radio. I didn’t get upset, though maybe I should have, but told him that the windsock favored 14. A few minutes later I see him in the pattern lining up for 14. He landed and parked his plane in one of the tiedowns close to the runway. On another practice landing I could see that he was an elderly gentleman, alone in the big twin.
On another flight when I landed at the airport I talked to one of the locals, and he said that there were a number of “experienced pilots” that seemed to disregard talking on the radio and routinely made straight in approaches to the runway from miles away. Not the safest thing I’ve heard of today.
If you want to live vicariously through an even scarier landing check out my latest novel.