All Aviation Articles By Tori Patterson

Runway Incursions: What's the Big Deal?

A runway incursion is defined by the FAA as, "Any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft." There are four categories of runway incursions, Categories A-D. Category A being the most severe and Category D being the least severe. Category A is classified as an "incident in which separation decreases and participants take extreme action to narrowly avoid a collision." An accident can be the result of a runway incursion, and therefore exceeds the categories described.

The FAA estimates that approximately three runway incursions happen every day at towered airports in the United States. Thus, the number of unreported incursions at non towered airports must be much larger. Although a runway incursion is by definition a near miss at the worst, they are often a contributing cause in serious aircraft accidents. An accident that perfectly illustrates the dangers of runway incursions is the 1996 collision of United Express flight 5925 and a Beechcraft King Air 90A in Quincy, Illinois. A miscommunication between the landing Beechcraft, the departing King Air, and a third taxing aircraft turned deadly when the King Air failed to look for traffic and the Beechcraft wrongly assumed a radio transmission confirmed they were okay to land. Although the airport was not towered, the presence of both aircraft on intersecting runways was extremely dangerous and lead to a collision at the intersection. A total of 12 people lost their lives in that accident that could have been easily avoided.

Another infamous accident involving a runway incursion is the Russian Aeroflot Flight 3352 that took place in 1984. In short, the ground Air Traffic Controller fell asleep after he authorized several maintenance vehicles to enter the runway. A commercial aircraft carrying 170 passengers came to land at the airport, and the approach controller, oblivious to the maintenance crew on the runway, cleared them to land. To make matters worse, visibility was extremely low and the maintenance trucks did not have their rotating beacons illuminated. The commercial aircraft collided with the vehicles, resulting in 178 fatalities. In this example, the accident investigators placed the majority of the blame on the Air Traffic Controller, but there were mistakes made by all parties involved.

The airport environment is a complex operation with hundreds of moving parts. Pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport designers have to understand the hazards that come with miscommunications and poorly designed airport layouts. It only takes one moment of confusion for a runway incursion to happen, which could be deadly.

The FAA has a record of 1747 total runway incursions happening in the Fiscal Year 2017. There are several reasons that runway incursions occur. One of the most prevalent ones is miscommunication or a total lack of any communication. Many times, pilots and air traffic controllers get "stepped on" or, talked over on the radio frequency. It is highly critical that pilots repeat back their instructions to confirm with the controllers that they heard them correctly and that the directions were for their aircraft and not another. As in the above case study, although there was not a tower at the airport, the landing aircraft assumed that the aircraft announcing they would be holding short was the only one holding short. There was a misunderstanding in this case because one pilot’s radio transmission got covered up by the other aircraft holding short making the pilot of the landing aircraft assume that there was only one aircraft and they were holding short. Other common types of runway incursions include incorrect entry or vacating of an aircraft or vehicle onto the runway protection area, incorrect runway/taxiway crossing, incorrect spacing between departing and arriving aircraft, and landing or taking off without air traffic control clearance.

According the the FAA, approximately 65 percent of all runway incursions are caused by pilots. Detailed investigations of runway incursions over the past 10 years have identified three major areas contributing to these events including failure to comply with air traffic control instructions, lack of airport familiarity, nonconformance with standard operating procedures. Clear, concise, and effective pilot/controller communication is paramount to safe airport surface operations. This is something that is often stressed during initial and recurrent pilot training, but evidently the information does not always stick in the pilots’ minds.

Air traffic control instructions must be fully understood and complied with. Air traffic controllers are in place to assist pilots and want to help when there is confusion but many pilots don’t ask for the help. They are caught up in other tasks such as checklists, taxi directions, and non-essential chatter with the copilot. Pilots are to taxi with their heads-up and eyes outside to ensure they are aware of all aircraft and airport vehicles.

Major factors that increase the risk of runway confusion and can lead to a wrong runway departure include airport complexity, close proximity of runway thresholds, joint use of a runway as a taxiway (FAA, 2017). During the summer construction time, many airports will close runways or taxiways to resurface them or replace them. If a taxiway is closed, this can force aircraft to use runways as a means of getting to another open taxiway. It can also force the aircraft to back taxi on the runway they are departing from.

Thorough planning is essential for safe taxi operations. Aircraft accidents are more likely to happen on the ground than in the air because there are so many moving parts on the airfield. Pilots need to utilize the following services/tools in order to ensure safe airport surface movement: Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS), Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), and recognizing Hot Spots. Although using these pilot tools will not end all runway incursions, they will lower the risks if all pilots are equipped with the proper and current information.

America’s Largest Fly-in Communities

Last weekend my husband and I flew to an EAA chapter meeting that was held at a beautiful private grass strip called Timberhouse. We quickly discovered that this was no ordinary grass strip. Each side of the runway was flanked by houses in various stages of construction, with a couple fully built houses scattered amongst them. This beautiful place was clearly becoming more inhabited every day. The owner of the field shared that they have had lots of sale on this flying community for 15 years, but in the last couple years has interest in buying lots increased exponentially.

The idea of being able to walk outside your house and get into your airplane, no driving to the airport required, seems like a total dream. Although this may seem like something out of a Bond movie, residential airports are all over the U.S. and some of the plots of land are just as affordable as buying off-airport land for your home.

According to the website Living With Your Plane, the three states with the most residential airports are Florida (71), Texas (67), and Washington (58). Even smaller states like Illinois and Ohio have 18 and 13 residential airports, respectively. When you take into account the amount of small public-use airports each state has, it’s no wonder the U.S. has the best General Aviation environment in the world.

Today I would like to inspect some of the biggest residential airports in the U.S. to help paint a picture of what living at an airport looks like. Most of these are exclusive, gated community type locations, but that’s not to say there’s not a more affordable option in the state as well.

Spruce Creek

Spruce Creek Airpark in Port Orange, Florida (seven miles south of Daytona Beach) is the perfect example of a thriving airport living community. The 4000 ft runway is surrounded by over 1,300 houses and 700 hangars. A large majority of the residents of this gated community have the luxury of private hangars in or beside their homes that are attached to over 14 miles of paved taxiways.

Jumbolair

Another Floridian airport of note is the Jumbolair Airport in Ocala, Florida. This one is different from Spruce Creek in that it has far less houses, but the runway is nearly twice as long at 7,550 ft. This airport is typically what people imagine when they think of flying communities, because actor John Travolta was one of the first people to purchase land and build a house. Travolta was drawn to this particular airport because the length of the runway allowed him to takeoff in his personal Boeing 707.

Poplar Grove

Located near the northern border of Illinois, Poplar Grove has made quite a name for themselves as being an extremely well maintained and fun airport. They are open to the public for flight training, but also have a prestigious residential community attached to the runway. 100 of the total 140 houses in their residential community are connected via taxiway to the runways. With one large asphalt runway and two grass strips, this airport is a heaven for pilots that enjoy antique and vintage aircraft flying.

RJW Airpark

Last but not least, RJW Airpark in Baytown, Texas claims to be the largest airpark in the state. Featuring a 5111 ft asphalt runway and a 3532 grass runway, this classic airpark has something for every pilot. The houses on this particular Airpark are in a realm of their own, because of course everything is bigger in Texas!

I hope this article has opened your eyes to some of the incredible flying communities that are out there! If you search online you might be surprised by how many are in your state. More flying communities are being created every year, so this type of lifestyle is also becoming more obtainable. If your dream is to someday taxi your plane away from your home towards a runway, never give up because that dream could very well become a reality.

7 Elements of a Great Fly-in

As summer comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on all of the amazing fly-ins we were able to go to this year. Our fly-in season began with the National Waco Club Reunion, peaked with a week at Oshkosh, and ended with a laidback gathering in Delphi, IN. There were several smaller fly-ins and hangar parties peppered in the mix, and we were thrilled to attend a personal record number of events this year. Next year we plan to go to even more, and perhaps host our own hangar party for our flying and non-flying friends. Aviation is all about community, and fly-ins are the most amazing expression of that.

I would like to share what I believe are all essential elements of a successful fly-in. Of course all events are different, but keeping these common themes in mind when planning a fly-in will help elevate the event from good to great. A personal goal of mine has been to host a fly-in for a long time, so let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for elements that you believe to be important!

1. Food

At almost every single fly-in we attended this summer, the first thing on our minds when we landed was where the food was. This was especially true for the fly-in breakfasts, where we had woken up extremely early and avoided food so we could gorge ourselves on the pancakes and bacon being served at the airport. At events that aren’t centered around breakfast, having food trucks options on-site is a great idea as well. Pilots are hungry people!

2. Flying

Something that really helps get people excited at fly-ins is if there is actual flying going on. You would be surprised at the number of fly-ins where planes stay parked and become static displays for the entire fly-in. It’s so much more exciting to hear the engines running, watch the planes do low passes, and really feel that general aviation is alive and well. Consider having an EAA chapter host Young Eagle flights, or planning an airshow during the fly-in.

3. Diversity

Some of the coolest fly-ins have a diverse group of attendees. You have young pilots, old pilots, professional pilots, recreational pilots, UAS pilots, military pilots, skydivers… The list goes on and on! At one fly-in there was a whole display of RC aircraft that I had never seen before. Celebrating diversity in aviation is a win for everyone, and opens up new opportunities to learn about a different aspect of the general aviation world. Beyond that, having vintage cars are great to have as well to admire their craftsmanship and history!

4. Youth

There’s nothing more adorable than seeing little kids totally in awe at fly-ins. They have no filter so the way they express their feelings of pure joy or excitement when they see a plane zoom by is so wholesome. I especially love it when little ones have toy airplanes and imitate the movements of the planes in the air. This is the kind of excitement that we need to encourage the next generation of pilots. Everyone screams "pilot shortage!" but that won’t change in the future if we don’t instill a love of aviation into youth right now.

5. Non-pilots

Inviting the general public to a fly-in adds a whole new dimension of fun. I spoke to people who came to the local fly-in every year, and others who were driving by and wanted to see what the commotion was. There are so many misconceptions about general aviation, and a lot of people don’t understand how fun and safe it actually is. Having a "fly-in or drive-in" type of event encourages those who normally stay away from the airport to give it a try and see some cool sights.

6. Safety

Safety should always be the number 1 priority in aviation, and fly-ins are no exception. Having clearly defined areas where planes are allowed to move around and ways to control the crowd are a must. Consider having members of the local Civil Air Patrol group assist with enforcing rules and educating attendees on when it is not safe to be near an airplane.

7. A Game Plan

Having a little structure for the event helps things run much smoother. Dinners or awards ceremonies with specific start times break up the action in an appropriate way. Some fly-ins even have scheduled fly-outs to other airports for breakfast or lunch. This keeps it interesting and fun, and a published plan helps everyone stay in the loop on what to expect during the event. Organization and communication are key!

What do you think of this list? Did I cover everything you think is important for a successful fly-in? Let me know in the comments, and let’s do our part to keep general aviation thriving!

Why it Took us 3 days to Fly to Oshkosh

Only a few days have passed since we returned from the "World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration" at EAA’s AirVenture and I am already having withdrawals! There is nothing quite like sleeping under the wing of an airplane that you flew in and waking up to the sound of aircraft engines whirling to life. As anyone who has been to AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin knows, the week is completely unforgettable and there is no shortage of things to see and do.

This is the 4th year my husband and I have flown in, and the 2nd time that we’ve flown my father-in-law’s 1931 Waco ASO. This "Straightwing" biplane was restored in the 70’s and has an open cockpit. It is a wonderful aircraft, but definitely not ideal for cross-country flying. It’s extremely windy, and even in the middle of summer the air gets freezing once you’re at altitude. We knew we were in for a long trip before we left, but the series of events that followed were nothing short of unexpected.

Our plan was to leave Saturday morning, have a leisurely trip up, and arrive that evening to set up camp. However, the reality of our trip to Oshkosh was very different. When we got up Saturday morning, it was pouring rain and ceilings were at 800’. We had to wait for that to clear out, so we weren’t able to depart until around 3pm. We had a 20 knot headwind, and ForeFlight indicated our speed across the ground varied between 60-70 mph. We were slow, and the thunderstorms from earlier had broken up but there were still showers we had to avoid.

We made a quick fuel stop in Harvard, Illinois at a gorgeous grass strip called Dacey Airport. After this we were finally in the homestretch to Ripon.

An important side-note: for those who haven’t read the Oshkosh NOTAM, the gist of the arrival procedure is to approach the town of Ripon, southwest of Oshkosh, and visually separate yourself from incoming traffic. Once you have a half mile separation from the plane in front of you, everyone is instructed to fly at 90 knots and 1800 ft in single file to the next town of Fisk. Once directly over Fisk, the Air Traffic Controllers ask you to "rock your wings" for identification purposes and then they assign you a runway and you are passed to another controller who clears you to land. There are often 4 or 5 aircraft on final at any given moment, so accuracy landings "on the dot" and turning off the runway as soon as able are important. The NOTAM states that no talking on the radio is allowed, so usually this approach is actually easier than landing at some other airports.

With the NOTAM in hand and mostly memorized, we approached Ripon with high hopes for a smooth arrival and landing. After all, the 3 other times we have flown in there were never any issues. However, when we were less than 5 miles from Ripon we heard this on the radio: "Attention all traffic – the Oshkosh field is now closed to incoming traffic for the Bonanza mass arrival. Begin holding. This will be a LONG delay so divert to an alternate if you have low fuel." Partly because we didn’t expect a long delay, and partly because the fuel at Dacey was so expensive, we didn’t fill the tank up. We were far from a fuel emergency, but didn’t have enough to hold for a "LONG delay." We immediately turned to our alternate, Fon du Lac. As we got near and contacted the temporary control tower, we were out of luck again. Fon du Lac was where the Bonanza mass arrival was departing from, and were again told to divert due to "150 Bonanzas on the runway" (Certainly something you would only hear at AirVenture.)

We began looking for a third alternate, and located untowered Dodge County airport 23 nm away. The annoying thing about this section of our trip was that dozens of other aircraft were forced to do the same thing, and we were all inbound to Dodge County at the same time. One such aircraft had a stuck mic, so he was continually transmitting over everyone else trying to coordinate within the pattern. Eventually we all were able to communicate and land, and I must give props to the staff at Dodge County for the "refueling assembly line" they had created to deal with the sudden influx of frustrated aircraft.

The whole FBO was full of pilots who had to divert. Several were on their phones calling every hotel in town only to find out they didn’t have any rooms available. We asked around for a bit about lodging but it appeared our only option in Dodge County was to set up our tent and camp out. With less than an hour left of daylight, we decided to try going back to Fon du Lac, where my father-in-law had found a hotel with open rooms.

We immediately took off, watching as others began pitching their tents on the airport below us. Thankfully Fon du Lac had cleared out the Bonanzas, and we were able to land there (behind a C-47!) and tie down for the night. We were generously given a ride to the hotel by a T-6 pilot who had the same misfortune as us while trying to enter Oshkosh. His wife had brought a camper up earlier in the week and she drove there to retrieve him. After some late-night pizza delivery, we were exhausted and got some rest before a second attempt to enter Oshkosh on Sunday.

Sunday morning we were awoken to the sound of thunder and heavy rain. The weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight, and it was clearly going to be IFR for several hours. We spent most of the day in the terminal at Fon du Lac, watching The Open Championship on tv and monitoring weather. Finally around 3pm the skies began opening up. Immediately engines could be heard starting and it was "go time" for getting into Oshkosh. We took a few moments to refuel and ready the airplanes, and went on our merry way towards Ripon.

10 miles from Ripon we began monitoring the approach frequency. It already didn’t sound good. The controller urgently repeated the phrases "we are oversaturated! Everyone approaching Fisk turn LEFT and enter a hold! If you are not at Ripon, do not come to Ripon! Enter a hold and come back with a half-mile separation!" We figured this was just a big push of traffic, and it would pass through soon. We were very wrong.

This video was taken by someone else who was in the air the same time as we were. You can hear the hecticness and see the planes that are too close for comfort.

Our approach took several minutes, and the controller hadn’t mentioned a hold in a while so we figured it was safe to go over Ripon and enter the lineup over the railroad tracks to Fisk. However, as soon as we got closer we realized just how many aircraft were trying to do the exact same thing. Dozens of planes could be seen in any direction at different speeds and altitudes, going every which way and being way too close for comfort. It was very reminiscent of a WWI dogfight. We maneuvered around a few such planes but ended up with a Kitfox on top of us, a Navajo flanking us on the right, and a couple small Cessnas flanking our left. Clearly this wasn’t going to work and we would be turned away if we even tried to approach Ripon.

We broke away from that disastrous group and entered a hold around the rather large Green Lake. After a few circles mixed with other traffic, it became clear they were not allowing people to enter Oshkosh any time soon. The controller continued to instruct planes to "turn left and enter a hold," "restart the approach," or "stay away from Ripon." At one point he said "there are 300 of you between Ripon and Fisk, we cannot have that and we need better separation!" I’m not sure of the 300 figure was an exaggeration, but it certainly felt like it was accurate.

We stayed in a hold for a little over 2 hours before we decided to return to Fon du Lac and try again later. During this time several other aircraft began declaring low fuel emergencies and were granted permission to land. We monitored approach for several hours after we landed and it was the same story: people turned away right and left for airport oversaturation or improper compliance with the NOTAM.

We spent another night in Fon du Lac and got up at 5:30am Monday morning. Oshkosh officially opened for arrivals at 7:00am but we were not going to get there late and enter a hold. We departed Fon du Lac at 6:40 and went straight into Oshkosh. This was the arrival we were accustomed to. Peaceful, respectful, professional. We landed on the yellow dot and had an incredibly fun week. I hope that next year they seriously consider a way to handle the record-breaking traffic!

59th Annual National Waco Club Reunion

Last weekend my husband and I had the opportunity to fly my father-in-law’s 1931 Waco ASO into Mount Vernon, Ohio for the National Waco Club’s 59th annual reunion. Despite some dreadful weather in the area, 13 incredible Wacos were able to fly in to Wynkoop Airfield for at least part the four-day long event. This was my second year attending and it was just as thrilling as my first!

Part 1: The Pilgrimage

Getting ourselves to the fly-in turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. We were planning to head out after work Friday, but the ceilings were too low so we had to wait until Saturday. Ideally the clouds would have moved overnight so we could have an early start but we woke to an 800 foot ceiling. This was one of those incredibly annoying times for VFR pilots when our airport seemed to be the only one reporting IFR in our area. A few miles in any direction, and it was clear, open skies. We are officially blaming the large lake we live beside but sometimes I think things like this happen so we pilots stay humble.

After waiting several hours and listening to the AWOS practically on repeat, it was finally reporting broken ceilings and VFR so we made a break for it. This was around 2pm but that didn’t stop us. Even if we would only be there for the tail end of the festivities we were determined to make it. You don’t miss out on an opportunity like this. It’s practically unethical.

The last hurdle between us and a fun weekend of biplanes was the outside air temperature. Following several excruciatingly warm days we had a cold front blow through just in time for our flight. The temperature on the ground was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Not terrible but cold for a day in late June. However, we must remember that atmosphere thing where temperature decreases by (approximately) 3.5 degrees F per 1,000 feet of altitude. By the time we got to cruising around 3,000 feet it was 10 degrees colder. Coupled with the inherent windiness of an open cockpit airplane, it was COLD. Thankfully this realization came to us before we left the house, and we both had on our sweaters, scarves, and mittens. In June!

The flight itself was relatively uneventful, and we each spent an hour at the controls. We don’t have modern luxuries of autopilot (or really even a solid elevator trim) so it can be tiring to fly after a while. Dan still says he married me because he needed an autopilot for long trips in the Waco. Har har. Thankfully, we had a tailwind that gave us a ground speed of 120 knots, almost 30 knots faster than our regular cruising speed. We were booking it!

Part 2: The Festivities

The atmosphere provided by the airfield itself is one of the best things about this fly-in. Wynkoop Field is well-maintained grass strip with two runways oriented in a V-shape. There is no fence or control tower, but there are runway lights and a few hangars. Grass strips always make me feel nostalgic for a period of aviation history that I never experienced firsthand: the barnstorming days. How fitting that these 1930s and 1940s aircraft have their reunion at such a place.

I overheard the owner of another Waco put it into words I will now attempt to paraphrase: "If you find another grass airport where you can park your car and walk right up to so many historic aircraft, please give me a call. I have not found anything else like it in my life." It’s so true!

Despite our late arrival, there were still official (and unofficial) Reunion activities to partake in. My husband loves giving rides, so he was back in the air with a passenger before I even realized it. Evidently the weather had been bad for most of the day, but the sun came out right as we landed. Other Waco pilots began starting their engines to take advantage of the last few hours of daylight. It’s always fun to see them taking off one after another. My father-in-law graciously invited me to fly with him in his Cabin Waco, so soon we were airborne as well.

I can only imagine what the townsfolk in Mount Vernon think of this whole ordeal. Suddenly for a few days every summer biplanes start flying around everywhere. I spoke with a few locals who said they aren’t always sure when the biplanes are coming, but they see them from town and know they’re finally there! A local photographer named Matt Plahtinsky visited during the day and took some breathtaking photos of some of the planes which can be found on his Facebook Page.

After my husband gave who knows how many rides, it was finally time for the banquet and auction. I’m a big foodie, and I have to give props to the catering company for an excellent dinner. Roast beef, chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese.. my mouth is watering just thinking about it! Following that we had a live auction with some great items to raise money for future National Waco Club events. We had great fellowship with our Waco friends from years past, then drove to the hotel after it was too dark for any more flying.

Part 3: It’s Over Already?

Less than 24 hours after we left Indiana, we were loading up the Waco to head back. I couldn’t believe it. We waited all year for this event and it was over before we knew it. That’s the nature of these things, I suppose. We were just thrilled to have reunited with our Waco friends at Wynkoop for any amount of time. Unfortunately our tailwind heading over turned into a nasty headwind coming back, and it took over 3 hours enroute. Plenty of time to reminisce on our short weekend trip and discuss plans for next year.

Epilogue: Come Next Year!

This year was great, but next year is going to be the 60th Anniversary of the National Waco Club Reunion. It was announced at dinner that the goal is to have 60 Wacos fly in for that one. 60! That number seemed unreal to me but I was told that for the 50th Reunion they had 50 Wacos! Totally doable, then!

This event clearly had a big impact on me and I have since made it my mission to invite everyone to the Reunion next year. Check out the website for the National Waco Club for more information on next year’s event, and I certainly hope you can make it!

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