“Sebring traffic, Cessna 150 051, 10 miles northwest, inbound runway 19, full stop, Sebring.” That was my radio call on the Sebring airport Unicom frequency Saturday morning. I was coming back from Avon Park airport where I was doing some “touch and goes” with my newly acquired Cessna 150, “Buttercup.”
I went to Avon Park airport because it usually quiet and does not have as much activity in the pattern that Sebring would have on a beautiful Saturday morning. Runway 23 is nice and long and makes practice touch and goes easy. I have been so busy with the EAA building project I have not been flying much. Even though I have thousands of hours in a Cessna high wing aircraft, flying is a skill that you need to practice and do on a regular basis in all sorts of conditions to stay sharp. A pilot needs to do three takeoffs and landings within 90 days to stay “current.” You really need to do more than that to stay sharp.
A pilot landing at an uncontrolled airport (without a control tower) has the responsibility of seeing and being seen in the pattern. Also, the pilot will make a radio call on the airport assigned frequency to let other aircraft in the traffic pattern to know their intentions. The radio message needs to be clear, brief and contain everything everyone else in the air or on the ground preparing to take off know what the pilot wants to do. In this case I told others where I was, what I was, (a slow Cessna 150 aircraft), what I wanted to do, and where I was going to do it, (landing to a full stop on runway 19).
Right after I left the Avon Park airport, I changed radio frequencies, and listened to what was going on in the pattern at the Sebring. I normally do that at least 20 miles out of any airport I am approaching to determine what runways are in use and what everyone is doing. There is also at many airports an AWOS broadcast, (Automated Weather Observation Service) which gives the winds, barometric pressure and other information a pilot will need to know about that airport.
Landing at an airport will take more steps to be able to turn and line up with the runway for landing. You might compare it to driving on a multi lane highway and preparing to turn off to a side road. You need to identify the exit, get in the exit lane ahead of time, put your directional signals on, slow down, and enter the exit ramp under control while mixing with all the other folks wanting to do the same thing. It takes forethought and planning.
Approaching an airport requires thinking ahead and following a generally accepted procedure. The airport “Pattern.” You gain and provide information on the radio. You slow down and drop to “pattern altitude” usually about 800-1,000 feet above the airport. There are three steps or “legs” to the landing pattern/sequence. You enter the “Downwind” leg at a 45-degree angle to get in line with other aircraft in the pattern. You are flying now with the wind, parallel to the runway on your left side. As you fly the downwind leg, your next 90-degree turn is the “Base” leg. You are continuing to slow down, maybe dropping some flaps, and getting everything ready for your next 90-degree turn, the “Final.” Now you are lined up on the runway, descending at a controlled rate and speed so you will have your landing gear “kiss the runway” softly, then taxi off the runway, clearing it for the next plane behind you.
A pilot will practice landings in a variety of conditions and situations. Last week’s landing of a plane leaving Sebring and losing engine power had the pilot implement something we all practice, an emergency engine out landing. With the big sod farm next to the Sebring airport, we all consider that a really big grass landing strip we can access in an emergency. We haver the sod form to the north and the golf course to the south. We have options at Sebring.
As I approached Sebring Saturday, I heard some familiar voices on the radio. One was Brant Howell who was flying with one of my high school Aerospace /Aviation students Nicole Blount. Nicole is an EAA Chapter 1240 flight scholarship student. I wished Nicole well, and entered the pattern for my landing. Nicole and flight instructor Brant were doing touch and goes, so she was staying in the pattern. Another familiar voice, Flight Instructor Shira Ellsworth, was waiting to take off. It was old friends’ day on the radio at Sebring airport. I now had to sandwich myself between Nicole in the pattern and Shira waiting to take off. Normally this not an issue, but with the runway 19 construction, if I landed long, I would miss the only available exit. I would then have to turn around and back taxi to clear the runway. That delay would be a problem for Nicole who was behind me in a faster airplane.
My option was to “land short” before the first exit and clear the runway faster. I’ve practiced this many times. I told Nicole on the radio what I was going to do, so she would not have to make any drastic adjustments in the pattern. All went well, my little ol’ 150 stopped on a dime and I cleared the runway.
As I taxied back to the hangar, I passed other familiar parked aircraft near the terminal building. I knew their owners were in the café eating breakfast. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning among friends.