Wednesday 22 May 2013 12:07 UTC
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I've always found the IHTM forum fascinating - so much to be learned here.
A few weeks ago I was flying a single engine retractable into an airport with an East/West runway, landing to the West. Airport has full ATC. Weather was good.
We were approaching from the South and reported at a VRP with about 10 miles to run. We were told to continue inbound and report airfield in sight. Shortly thereafter we called visual, and were told to join downwind left hand for the westerly runway, positioning behind an aircraft currently on downwind.
We spotted the traffic (C152) and positioned to join (a fair distance) behind him. I am usually very careful when told to join behind other traffic that I keep them in sight at all times. This flight was one of my first on this new aircraft post checkout, and I was perhaps a little too focused on configuring for approach (gear/flap/power/prop/mixture/cowl flaps) during the turn onto downwind, and did not keep a constant lookout for the traffic ahead.
I stabilised the aircraft comfortably on downwind when the tower asked if I was visual with the traffic ahead. By this point we were abeam the numbers. I scanned ahead, did not see the traffic and reported accordingly. Very shortly thereafter I spotted the 152 at approximately 2 o'clock turning towards us, same level. The turn was a 'clockwise' turn from his perspective - in other words flying in an opposite direction to us turning to his right. The turn looked fairly steep. It was a left hand circuit, so why was he turning towards us in a right hand turn?
I did not consider there to be a risk of collision although at that point the aircraft was coming right at us. I commenced a smooth descending turn to the left (I'm aware of the right turn rule, yes, but that would have taken us directly towards him and given our relative positions did not seem the logical option). I called traffic in sight and announced our intentions - descending turn to the left and orbiting level at 600ft. At no point was I worried about an immediate collision risk - the 152 was quite a way way. My main worry was that in doing the turn I had lost sight of him, hence the decision to descent to an altitude that he surely would not reach at that point in the circuit.
Once established in the orbit I reiterated that I was orbiting left at 600ft. The 152 then announced that as we were now ahead of him we 'might as well' continue before him onto base (or words to that effect).
I replied (addressing the tower) in admission of my error and that we would be prepared to continue orbiting so that the 152 could continue ahead of us. He did so, and we joined base to land and taxied to parking without incident. The 152 continued doing touch and goes. The tower did not make mention of the 'incident' at any point after we landed. We took off about an hour later to return home.
Now to my thoughts and questions on the 'incident':
There were three of us in the aircraft. I was left seat, and another PPL was right seat. Passenger in the back was not rated, but has a good understanding of the system and will be starting his PPL in the next few months.
Both passengers were aware of how we were joining the circuit, and both were listening to ATC. Both spotted the 152 before we joined. Both lost sight of him as we turned downwind.
After landing the three of us discussed at length what happened. Given the position of the 152 when we spotted him (to our right, turning towards us in a right hand turn), we could only assume that he had commenced a right orbit on late downwind. Turns in the circuit should have been to the left, so this seemed the only thing that made sense to us. None of us in the aircraft could recall ATC asking him to do this, or indeed him requesting it.
Clearly I was at fault in the first place as I lost contact with an aircraft that I was told to join behind. I acknowledged this while announcing my intention to orbit and descend and apologised.
What about the pilot of the 152? I can only assume that he bears some responsibility for commencing an orbit on downwind (seemingly) without telling anyone when he should have known there was traffic behind him.
I'm not trying to transfer any blame here of course, I'd just be interested to hear your thoughts!
I could only guess that the pilot freaked out thinking he was on the wrong runway and decided to turn around. After doing 180 he then realised he was correct in the first place.
The trouble for me is the picture painted doesn't seem to make much sense. If, as you were first advised, the 152 was already on the downwind leg, it must have been abeam the numbers or further East along the downwind leg (Unless of course he called downwind early, but you have said you were visual). Even if you lost sight of it, by the time you were abeam the numbers the 152 should have been well ahead.
Unless the 152 made an orbit, or thought that his downwind leg was too tight to the runway and was now moving out again to a wider position?
Not really a position I've been in, but making a descending turn below a pilot whose flying is confusing me may not have been my first option. I might have been tempted to clear off out of the circuit and come back for another ago, or climb up into the overhead to let things settle down and then turn it into an overhead join. I guess you had to be there.
Having said that, making orbits on downwind sounds as if it can lead to confusion for everyone.
Suiting the action to the words
Cheers for the replies folks.
I'd hope so! None of the three of us in my aircraft heard any calls to/from that aircraft as we joined behind him.
Exactly! You can understand my surprise to see an aircraft supposedly 'on downwind' ahead of us in our 2 o'clock turning towards us. As you say I can only assume that he was in an orbit. The problem being that as far as we could tell he did so unannounced at a towered airport.
He appeared (very) slightly above us at the time, and I wanted to keep him in sight during my turn away from him. I probably could have done a gentle climbing turn but it had to be a fairly quick decision so I stuck with it.
I suppose the best way for me to learn from this experience would be to ask you all how you'd have reacted in that situation?
To ATC : 'Visual with circuit traffic ahead - traffic intentions uncertain - , request depart circuit for rejoin'.
That might then prompt ATC to enquire of traffic's intentions.
Primum non nocere..
When I was flying from a regional airport it was a common occurence to be given an instruction to orbit right when late downwind on a left hand circuit. Usually it was due to a commercial established on four mile final, and me flying a much tighter circuit than the usual student 'mini X-country'. I'm now flying a Permit/taildragger from a farm strip. Sheer bliss.
Every day, I thank God I'm not religious.
Chan eil aon chànan gu leòr.
I think you're being a little harsh on yourself when you describe losing sight of the other aircraft as being your fault, it's very easily done. As for what the other pilot was playing at we'll never know without asking him/her so I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it. Polish the MkI eyeball up and watch out for the blighter next time.
Not wishing to hijack your thread but I've seen students do some weird things. I once had one who flew by rote and used 'Engrish' stock phrases. I used to get grief from the ATCOs for insisting on being in the tower during his circuits until one day after reporting "Ready for base, touch and go" he was told "Maintain downwind, aircraft on left base" which he acknowledged before immediately turning onto right base. The ATCO's face when I pointed out that he now had two students going head to head was a picture and only some very definite instructions got my student to turn left onto a (now) low level, close downwind. Once there was room between the two aircraft he was told "Turn right base, cleared touch and go" in response to which he turned left (away from the circuit), climbed to 1000' AGL before turning onto a late right base. Why? Because in his fly-by-rote mind you turn base from 1000' AGL (yes, we'd covered abnormal circuits).
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