Flight Safety: In The Pattern, Pride Must Take The Back Seat, Complacency Doesn’t Even Belong In The Aircraft

The other day, somebody told me about somebody else cutting them off in the pattern recently. He said this has happened more than once with the same fellow. We both talked about how that kind of thing happens. I mean, we are communicating on the radio, and we’re looking for traffic, and we’re following pattern procedures – aren’t we?These things happen, and unfortunately, all to often. Do we get complacent? Are we simply negligent? You have heard “Fly the airplane first” a million times. This is the single most important advice we ever get when we’re learning to fly. If you have passengers, do you ever put your interaction with them before “flying the airplane?” Do you even realize that you are doing it? Perhaps not! I remember one time I had three kids, all of whom I know as family and friends, with me one day and as we entered the pattern, I was trying to entertain their questions and ignore their unnecessary utterances on the intercom, and as I turned base to final, all the while concentrating on flying, I finally said, “Columbia Downtown, Skyhawk seven-eight-lima turning final for  one-three – ya’ll be quiet now, I’m trying to land!” Then I unkeyed the mic. Now, the kids onboard knew who I was talking to – them! How about everybody else that might have been listening? I had gotten my proper radio transmission out, but also treated whoever might have been listening to some extra curricular conversation.One time long ago when I was still training as a student pilot and soloing, I entered the pattern at Columbia Downtown and turned downwind. I hadn’t heard anyone else report that they were in the pattern. Suddenly I heard a King Air report downwind. Yikes!  As a student, I was really apprehensive about two airplanes on downwind – one I can’t see – and one me! So I flew on downwind and as I passed the threshold, I began to set up for landing. This King Air announce “turning base” just as I was about to turn base. I announced turning base as well, all the time looking really hard for the traffic.I was a fresh student. I really didn’t know what a King Air was. Or that they are faster and bigger, and they run a wider pattern. But I’m looking hard and I’m not seeing anything. I heard that King Air call “turning final.” I’m really looking hard for another airplane. I also was thinking, “I was in the pattern first. What the heck is going on?” Well, uh, I was here first. So I start my turn final and announce it. As I put on 30 degrees of flaps and am about to make the perfect landing, I hear King Air “going around.” A loud roar of engines just above me let me know just what a King Air is.I touched down and pulled up to park, went in the FBO (that building isn’t there anymore) and my instructor made absolutely sure I knew what a King Air is. He wasn’t with me in the airplane but had heard the whole thing on his transceiver. All this to say, it’s tough enough some times if each aircraft is communicating, let alone if they are not. If you are in the pattern at an airport that is normally busy, listening is not enough. Calling out your pattern position is not enough. You must communicate – that is, you must say, you must hear, you must comprehend, you must know that the other guy comprehends – you must communicate.Whose to fault? I still don’t know for sure. Perhaps me. Perhaps the other guy. Mine for not knowing what that pattern habits of a King Air are and establishing clearer communications. Him perhaps for assuming I knew what I was doing – that is, assuming that everyone else in the pattern is a professional pilot. Doesn’t matter now, that was years ago and the lesson learned by me. My apologies to that pilot if it was my fault.But what about that fellow that my friend was telling me about? Not sure what happened there. Perhaps his radio does not work well enough that others can hear his transmissions. Or, perhaps he cannot hear other pilots. Perhaps he did not even have his radio on. Or, he was distracted some how – engaged in conversation with a passenger perhaps. Maybe he had his radio tuned to his home airport frequency and he forgot to change it. Maybe he is rusty on procedure. I hope that it was not the complete negligence of egotistical pride or complacency.Just consider this: if you are in a the traffic pattern of a normally busy airport and you do not hear others calling on the radio, consider asking for a radio check.  I have flown into the pattern at Hamilton-Owens several times and not heard anything on the radio prior to entering, but that does not mean that some other pilot is thinking the same thing, that “I don’t hear anybody, must be nobody there.” Hamilton-Owens unicom is particularly friendly at reporting “other traffic in the pattern.” A call to them will at least wake up some other non-communicating pilot – I hope! Why would you not report your position in the pattern if you have that capability? “I don’t need to communicate. If I didn’t have a radio, I wouldn’t be required to at this non-towered airport.” Nuts!Even crazier, I have seen folks insist on using the opposite runway that unicom had been reporting in use – while other airplanes were in the pattern for the other runway! I even heard them one time remind unicom that this was a non-towered airport even after unicom warned them of other traffic in the pattern for the other runway. I mean, this guy wasn’t trying to slip out between sparse traffic on an IFR plan. I actually saw this fellow on “his downwind” approaching an airplane that was on the pre-announced, unicom-recommended, and wind-friendly downwind for the opposite runway. Folks had been using this runway for several hours prior to this. What is the reason for this kind of behavior?The sad thing is that these folks are not required to tow a banner that says “Beware! Pride and Complacency Is More Important Than Safety” so we pilots that strive to be as safe as possible would be able to avoid these scary people.Folks, review your pattern habits regularly. Put your pride in the backseat. If you are complacent beyond your capability to put safety first, stay on the ground – you do not belong in the cockpit.

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