Staying Out of the Way

I have flown in and out of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field dozens of times now. I first landed there for Rudy’s first visit to ComicCon and since then we have discovered The Old Globe Theater and seen a bunch of Shakespeare and a bunch of other stage productions. We park at the only available FBO, Landmark and they will often run us up the hill in their shuttle van. Most of what we want to do is in Balboa Park.

Rudy was back from college for a long weekend (yay!) and wanted to see his friend Mitchell who is down at UCSB. It looked like we might be able to make it a family trip, but in the end it was just me and Rudy. I didn’t mind going to the campus since I’ve been wanting to take a look at the gliderport since noticing it on our flights in and out (so, for years).

The Class Bravo around KSAN is more complex than any I have seen. There are a *lot* of aircraft in the area, military, airliners, charter jets, and general aviation. There are a half dozen airports around the San Diego area feeding into the general chaos. To help even it all out, Lindbergh Field is considered (by the History Channel) one of the top ten most dangerous airports to fly in and out of.

My entire goal when I am headed into KSAN is to stay out of the way and not get yelled at. Not even get admonished. So my radio work gets sharper, I get a little crisper and more terse, and I work hard to understand the scenario all of the other radio calls are painting. My friend Philip Greenspun flew with me once a few years ago, up the coast to Ventura and then back through the Santa Monica Mountains. The only constructive criticism he had of my flying was that “you’ll get better service from the controllers if you get better on the radio.” So I work hard as I close in on San Diego.

I also offer to be flexible. I like being in the sky, so it is no big deal if they want me to do a few orbits over Balboa Park. I’m also pretty comfortable in my plane so I always offer to do a short approach. Between the delay (orbiting) and the shortcut (short approach), the tower controllers have more options for when to slip me between a few airliners and get me on the ground.

So as we crossed over Mission Bay and entered the right downwind for 27, on a perfect 45, mid-field, I announced as requested, “One romeo delta is entering the downwind midfield. We are available for a short approach if that helps you.” The controller jumped on it. “One romeo delta, short approach request approved, cleared to land two seven. Caution wake turbulence from departing Challenger jet, and there is a 757 on an eight mile final. Please be ready to exit the runway as soon as practicable.”

I had already pulled the nose up, so we were bleeding off speed. I clicked the flaps switch and we had landing flaps set. The throttle was pulled and I dropped the wing and nose, pointing us right at the beginning of the runway. We spiraled down one hundred eighty degrees and as we rolled wings-level I added all the right rudder I had, so the plane continued into a right sideslip. With the nose pulled up a little we kept bleeding off the speed from the quick descent. I skimmed over the numbers and the thousand foot marker, putting the wheels down just after the big rectangles. That meant with just moderate braking I had us off at charlie five.

“One romeo delta, nice job, thanks for the help. Switch to ground.”

It’s always nice to get a thank you and, more importantly, not to embarrass myself. I switched to ground, got my taxi instructions to Landmark and toodled along on charlie looking for hotel. A gravelly voice spoke up on the frequency. If you told me he had flown in the Berlin airlift I would believe you.

“Lindberg Ground, this is Alaska Air four eighteen. What sort of airplane was that which just landed?”

“That was a…. DiamondStar.” She said it like she had to check the clipboard at the next station over.

“Well, I think that was a beautiful approach.”

There was a pause on frequency. Then ground spoke up. “I agree with you.”

Rudy patted me on the back. It’s probably my favorite exchange about one of my landings, up there with the one at Morristown.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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2 Responses to Staying Out of the Way

  1. Jay says:

    I have really enjoyed your blog. I found it when you responded to a question I had on the Diamond Aviators forum about training in the DA20. I’m a bit obsessed with safety. I haven’t started taking lessons yet (well one introductory/discovery flight) and I’ve already read Paul Craig’s “The Killing Zone:How and Why Pilot’s Die”, Rich Stowell’s “Stall/Spin Awareness”, spent extensive time on Gene Benson’s web site reading, etc., etc… Reading your blog has convinced me that general aviation can be quite safe if done properly. It has helped to convince me to press forward with fulfilling a life long dream to fly. Thanks!

    • Colin says:

      Glad to hear it was a help, Jay. I assume you saw that I reviewed “The Killing Zone.” It is one of the things that encouraged me to get my instrument rating, which is really the biggest thing you can do to remove risk. Well, that and fill the tanks.

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