Rules to Ignore

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The problem with rules and regulations is not that they exist, but that those which require judgment and interpretation—and that's most of them—confuse people who aren't, shall we say, self-aware. (In case you haven't noticed, I wouldn't necessarily put myself in that group while admitting I have my clueless days.)

This came to light for me early Saturday morning when my student and I had a minor run in with another pilot. We were out early doing some training and touch and goes in the Cub. My student is the son of one of our Cub partners is and working toward an LSA or private pilot certificate. A few months ago, I blogged on the lack of a radio in the Cub and since then, I've more or less sorted it out with a PTT switch and some gain adjustments. But this setup won't work with the portable intercom, so now we're into another round of antenna work to sort that out without resorting to installing an electrical system. Bottom line: We were NORDO Saturday morning.

While we were tooling around the pattern, we both noticed an aircraft fly past on the right side a quarter mile away and we assumed we either cut him off on the final for runway 4 or he crowded the turn. Neither turned out to be the case, as I found out when we were pushing the airplane back into the hangar. A Cherokee taxied up very purposefully and stopped right in front of our hangar. I knew what was coming.

The pilot remained civil, but launched into an inquisition about our lack of a radio, which I explained. It finally became evident to me that our NORDO situation was less the issue for him than his elevation of the local noise abatement policy as a controlling decision factor and the lack of a working AWOS. The city has a noise abatement policy requesting that pilots use runway 22 in calm conditions, with calm being anything less than 5 knots. Our AWOS has been busted for months, so pilots have to do the unthinkable: look at a windsock and make a judgment, then pick a runway.

To get a pre-takeoff wind hack, I checked the Sarasota METAR before we took off: 060 at 7 to 9 knots. Other stations in the area had 9 to 13 knots. The windsock confirmed this. It wasn't straight off the pole, but it was lively enough. Runway 4 was the no-brainer choice for a student in a taildragger.

Our friend in the Cherokee, wishing to comply with the city's noise abatement wishes, came to the opposite conclusion and was using runway 22. He said our near collision was the closest call of his life. Huh? We sure didn't come remotely close head-on and, evidently, he had flown a circuit around us to…I'm not sure what he was doing. At one point, we fell in behind him, figuring he'd setup again for 4. But he flew a wide, almost beyond visual range pattern, then turned right out of an upwind for 4 and disappeared. Had we had a radio, we could have queried him, and the lack of it contributed to the confusion.

But the surprising thing for me was the weight he assigned to the written noise abatement procedure. Even in a Cherokee, I wouldn't land with a 9-knot quartering tailwind, if avoidable, and I sure as hell wouldn't consider it in a Cub. It's placing the cart before the horse, sacrificing a real safety margin in exchange for a voluntary, good neighbor policy. I normally adhere to such procedures when I'm asked to do so because I don't want to antagonize the neighbors and make things difficult for airport users and management. It's just simple courtesy. But judgment must always intervene.

At the departure end of runway 4, the airport has a sign which requests a Vy climb to 700 feet before making any turns. If I did that in the Cub, we would fly directly over the sensitive neighborhood at 300 feet and turn crosswind 2 miles later. On a nice summer day, I might coax the thing to 400 feet by the point where I normally turn base. So I comply with the spirit of the noise policy by ignoring it, turning inside the airport boundary and flying a 200-foot crosswind into the downwind. And that's as good as it gets in a 65-HP J-3. It's all the airplane can do, which is another way of saying some of the policies and procedures we're asked to follow are not one size fits all.

As for the lack of radio, I've finally gotten it into my numb skull that the majority of pilots who fill the sky are not old school like me. They will never be comfortable with NORDOs in the pattern and no amount my suggesting they suck it up is going to change that. It's directly related to the courtesy I'm willing to extend on noise abatement. Why not do the same for my fellow pilots in the pattern? So, we're getting this figured out. It wouldn't have necessarily solved the conflict described here, but it would have reduced the confusion and thus enhanced safety.

Comments (101)

At least you guys worked it out civilly and on the ground.

I do submit that this sort of thing happens fairly regularly, regardless of NORDO or noise abatement policy. It's just the risk of nontowered airports.

Posted by: Donald Harper | September 22, 2010 11:41 AM    Report this comment

Anyone willing to land with a 9 knot quartering tailwind when there are other options is obviously not competent and is apparently making up for a lack of piloting skills by being the self appointed abatement police.

Posted by: Nelson Swartz | September 22, 2010 2:02 PM    Report this comment

I agree with the substance of the article as it relates to safety before regs, but continue to worry about nordo pilots at most airports. I fear the story on the evening news after an accident proclaiming that in 2010 there are still planes without radios. Would be even worse should it involve a commercial aircraft. I fly at an uncontrolled airport (East Hampton,NY) which, on a busy Friday afternoon can include helicopters, jets as well as small GA. Occasionally get a nordo, and can really get hairy. Admit my ignorance, but don't quite understand why a handheld can't be used, at least in the pattern.

Posted by: JOHN PICKER | September 22, 2010 2:12 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I run into this quite often at the non controlled airports. I had a gal read me the right act, just about 2 days ago that was monitoring the frequency at the Terminal. Because I didn't use left traffic when I was going to make a right base to land for a few T&Go's in my Skylane, So I asked if she was a pilot, no she was not, was there other pilots in there with her, yes, ask them if I'm wrong on coming in on a right base to land and can I use right or left traffic, and do I even need to use a radio to land if I dont want to. Never heard another peep. Same airport i was chewed out by a supposed worldly corporate pilot who like you self made a special trip over to tell me it was not safe to land on the runway until he had turned off onto the ramp. Been flying 30 years havent hit anyone yet on the runway. There always seems to be a few no matter where you are. Mouth engages before brain. Thanks, always enjoy all the reviews you do on new products for the rest of us pilots that don't sweat the small stuff. Phil Szymarek based ALN, Saint Louis Regional

Posted by: Phillip Szymarek | September 22, 2010 2:19 PM    Report this comment

Once (and only once!), when I was a newly solo'd student, I took off in a Warrior, went to the practice area and returned 30 minutes later w/o checking the wind, which had reversed direction. I experienced firsthand what a tailwind landing does, and was smart enough to immediately perform my first solo go-around. Can't imagine ever doing that again, noice abatement or not. Maybe you should have gently deflated the ego by initiating a conversation on the definition of 'calm' and how that and current conditions matched up to the noise abatement policy...

Posted by: Gregory Viola | September 22, 2010 2:24 PM    Report this comment

In pre-awos days I once departed a controlled airport to go pick up a friend at a nearby residential airport, no tower. I assumed the non-towered airport, being close to the towered airport, had winds from the same direction and so I entered the pattern for runway 18. Three approaches and three go arounds later I could not understand why my ground speed was so high as I flared. As I climbed out after the third go-around I came head on with another pilot landing in the opposite direction. The light came on, I reversed my pattern and landed on runway 36. As I taxied the full length of the runway to my friend's house I got a standing ovation from all of the residents that had witnessed my antics while barbequing on this fine Sunday.

Posted by: Donald Purney | September 22, 2010 2:50 PM    Report this comment

Had a pilot read me the riot act over the radio one day for using right traffic instead of left. I explained to him, that even though the airfield was VFR there was heavy rain and low visibility on the left downwind which surely was IMC conditions. The right downwind was clear so that is what we elected to do getting into the airport. He didn't agree, you always, always, always fly left traffic no matter what was his opinion. Oh well. I side with you on this one.

Posted by: Russell Peitz | September 22, 2010 4:03 PM    Report this comment

I can totally relate to this, having a 65 HP Aeronca Chief. Vy or no, it takes a while to struggle into the air. And with the unmufflered exhaust, the intercom squelch has to be so high that getting the radio input unsquelched and readable can be challenging. Finally got it sorted out in my case. Even more troubling that NORDO traffic mixing with radio traffic is when two plans both think they're on radio, and they're transmitting on different frequencies. I came very close to a mid-air due to that a number of years back. A hyperbipe apparently flew most of the pattern above and behind me, and in my high wing airplane there was no way to see him until I started to flare over the numbers and he passed within a few feet over my head and landed in front of me. We had an interesting conversation as we tried to figure out what happened - turns out I had stored the wrong frequency in the radio under the name of this frequently used airport. So I had been flying unintentional NORDO for months...

But safety is always first. Landing downwind in tailwheels is challenging: I did it once when the wind shifted from what was reported at AWOS as a storm came in. Long, scary rollout.

Fly safe!

Posted by: Unknown | September 22, 2010 4:39 PM    Report this comment

Corrections: even more troubling _than_ , and when two _planes_

Posted by: rodkey | September 22, 2010 4:41 PM    Report this comment

Hey Paul, I have a J3-65 as well. I sometimes will go NORDO very early in the summer, when no one is around, but usually use a hand held iCom radio (and a battery-powered intercom, if carrying a passenger). I tuck the intercom next to my left thigh, in the seat, and we made a clever mount for the radio that hooks on the window ledge and has a bungee below it, attached to the floor. PTT on the rear stick. I'll look up what kind it is next time I'm at the airport. The squelch stinks with the door open, but it beats screaming! It seems to be a decent solution for talking to people in the pattern who look with their ears. - Mark

Posted by: Mark Mayes | September 22, 2010 4:53 PM    Report this comment

Hard to believe a 65 hp Cub makes that much noise!

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | September 22, 2010 8:31 PM    Report this comment

In regards to left or right traffic:

§ 91.126 Operating on or in the vicinity of an airport in Class G airspace.

(a) General. Unless otherwise authorized or required, each person operating an aircraft on or in the vicinity of an airport in a Class G airspace area must comply with the requirements of this section.

(b) Direction of turns. When approaching to land at an airport without an operating control tower in Class G airspace—

(1) Each pilot of an airplane must make all turns of that airplane to the left unless the airport displays approved light signals or visual markings indicating that turns should be made to the right, in which case the pilot must make all turns to the right; and

(2) Each pilot of a helicopter or a powered parachute must avoid the flow of fixed-wing aircraft.

Posted by: Todd Tetzlaff | September 22, 2010 8:34 PM    Report this comment

A J-3 Cub with a 65 horsepower engine is a surprisingly quiet -heard from the ground. When it comes to noise all aircraft are not equal...but the "honored regulators" want to standardise matters according to "their" views of the world.
Radio or not, one should be looking around; pilots should be "rubbernecking" as routine. To rely on radio to tell you where everyone is can lead to disaster -something which many are (my opinion)courting via radio on a daily basis.
There is a whole new generation of people flying out there and they have been growing up (learning) with radio everything. (I could relate some truly wild stories.) As these people so-"trained" work their way up in the system we get new and enforced value judgements by people who frequently lack some of the fundamental basics.
There are few things worse than "unbridled" professionalism...yet it is something that is becoming surprisingly common.
Finally, knowledge is not all in books, even if some would like to think so -or advertise so.
Follow the rules (they are not all bad) but use your head and adapt to situations. To be a rigid "by the book" pilot can put one in a too soon grave...and not all alone.
There are days when I think we might be better off around small airports if we reserved radio for "emergeny only".
Then we could learn to use our eyes just as nature intended we should -and might become better and more courteous pilots in the process.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 22, 2010 8:51 PM    Report this comment

NORDO and noise abatement are prob not the issue here. The other pilot got scared and then got angry with you. He maybe still thinks you are some sort of criminal.

Posted by: Steve Berg | September 22, 2010 9:41 PM    Report this comment

Being NORDO is not "old school". If you lose an alternator you can become NORDO quickly. You can't check the weather, you can't contact the tower... As a pilot you have to expect problems like this and maybe even practice them. I have lost my alternator at least 3 times. Once I lost it in D airspace. You have to learn how to conserve battery and a lot of other things change. It was not the most fun I've ever had. But the handheld really came in handy for D airspace. You also have to expect others to have problems like this on occasion.
Fly safe.

Posted by: Dan Smith | September 22, 2010 9:59 PM    Report this comment

I'll relate a story similar to the article. I had landed the wrong way at a one way strip many years ago simply because the wind were blowing at least an estimated 20K right down the runway. I wasn't about to land the "proper" way and end up in the trees at the other end. I watched a Cherokee circle the strip about one hour later and assumed that the pilot would come to the same conclusion about landing into the wind regardless of what the traffic marker on the ground indicated. What did that pilot do?... he sets himself up for a down wind landing. I called my wife over from the camp spot to watch what may become an "interesting" landing. When the Cherokee glided past us power off, I estimate that his ground speed had to have been at least 100 mph, maybe faster. He was still airborne half way down that short strip! He touched down approximately 500 feet from the end of that already short runway and obviously had to lay to lay on his brakes to keep from running into the trees at the end. Why do some pilots do that? Where was the common sense?

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | September 23, 2010 4:51 AM    Report this comment

Don't worry. Who can hear an LSA over the leaf blowers and lawn mowers anyway? Gald to see that you reacted to the content of his remarks rather that his emotional delivery. Physics rules!

Posted by: DOUGLAS OLSON | September 23, 2010 7:31 AM    Report this comment

What will happen as ADS-B becomes routine? Will those of us that fly only in class E and G, without ADS-B, create the same anger among ADS-B aircraft operating at non-towered airports? What are these pilots going to expect?

Posted by: Sam Strohl | September 23, 2010 7:51 AM    Report this comment

We launch gliders at an "non-towered" (our Feds do not like the term uncontrolled) airport in Jax FL (HEG). Once when we were NORDO (wing runner, glider pilot, and tow pilot) we launched on the grass just as a student pilot in a cherokee took off on the parallel hard surface. We all use radios now to enhance situational awareness.

Posted by: John McGlynn | September 23, 2010 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Watching for existing traffic is more important than a radio. The PIC judgment is more important than any city "policy".
I agree. Some pilots are so hard headed that they will follow a procedure right up to the point where they over-run the landing. I read about those in the NTSB reports every day.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 23, 2010 8:33 AM    Report this comment

A second thought, I LOVE NORDO in the pattern. I hate pilots announcing every single step they are doing. Multiply that by 4 or 5 planes all announcing and it binds up the whole frequency!

It's much for fun just to relax and stay off the radio in the pattern and basically just use it when incoming traffic "asks" for something.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 23, 2010 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I enjoy all of your aviation reports. BUT, flying NORDO at a public airport is negligent much less with no transponder. I agree with the other poster that we have to have our head out the window. It's that we live in a different world - that is protecting the unfortunate. Could be you that didn't see the other guy behind and above to the left in the low wing bearing down on you. Might as well have a regulation stating so much.

Posted by: Thaddeus Brys | September 23, 2010 8:43 AM    Report this comment

Something about aviation people makes many of them prone to annoint themselves policemen and then lecture others on rules, procedures, and (most often) opinions and half-baked theories masquerading as rules and procedures. I've noticed the same thing in the firearms world, although at least the gun people don't shout at each other over the radio....

Posted by: DOUGLAS GARROU | September 23, 2010 8:51 AM    Report this comment

For those who have mentioned that they can casually make right traffic to landing, I would caution that this is likely to be contrary to the federal regulations (14 CFR Part 91.126 and 91.127). The regulations require when landing at non-towered airports "Each pilot of an airplane must make all turns of that airplane to the left unless the airport displays approved light signals or visual markings indicating that turns should be made to the right, in which case the pilot must make all turns to the right".

There is no exemption for doing an insrument approach, nor is there an exemption for NORDO. ATC can dirct pilots to fly right traffic at controlled airfields, but the non-towered aifields must adhere to regulatory gudance and standard safety practices.

Keep yor eye openout there!

Posted by: Gary Readio | September 23, 2010 9:22 AM    Report this comment

At my home field we use runway 34 as the calm wind runway. The other day while working on the plane I heard someone takeoff on 16 with a eight knot tailwind! He is hangared at the North end of the airport and probably did not want to make the 1 mile taxi to 34. Other times I have seen the wind switch with aircraft in the pattern who continue to use the same
runway which is now downwind. I elected to leave the pattern and announce I would use the upwind runway when the pattern cleared. At that time the others decided that would be a good idea. Strange it took someone else to make that decision for them.

Posted by: Ric Lee | September 23, 2010 9:25 AM    Report this comment

Ted said: "flying NORDO at a public airport is negligent"
I disagree. When the Cherokee saw traffic in the pattern and then refused to act in a predictable manner (As prescribed in the AIM) then the Cherokee is negligent.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 23, 2010 9:25 AM    Report this comment

Designation of Runway 17 at my airport as the one to be used when winds are calm, along with its departure end being closest to the ramp, mean that the flight school and other pilots persist in using it without regard to what the wind is actually doing. Runway 17 is regularly used with winds less than 10 knots, unless there is a break in the action and someone chooses to land into the wind. That’s often enough to convince everyone thereafter that the “active” runway is now 35, which makes me wonder how much independent thought is going into picking runway direction in the first place. The lesson being taught students on runway selection, however unintentionally, is that wind direction doesn’t really matter, at least in comparison to “calm wind” designations and proximity to parking. Rather than continue to fight the flow in a taildragger with less than good manners on pavement even without quartering tailwinds, I’ve adapted and learned to enjoy sunrise flying.

Posted by: Robert Davison | September 23, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

Our skypark development also has a published "no wind" noise abatement runway, but I like to think no one here would second-guess a pilot who elected to go with a prevailing surface wind, even if light. Wind at pattern altitude is generally significantly higher.
On the NORDO question though, while I wouldn't quite characterize flying at a public airport sans radio as "negligent", the NORDO pilot should definitely keep in mind that he/she is GREATLY increasing the danger to everyone by doing so.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 23, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

The funniest UNICOM I heard was when a student called in and asked "which runway is active" to which the crusty old UNICOM operator said "they are all active" and then after a brief pause said "pilots have been using 14". Just a reminder that all runways are available and usable at uncontrolled fields...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 23, 2010 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Oh, then I have to relate this story about student pilots and radios. I towed gliders for 11 years at the Stead Airport north of Reno years ago. The tow plane usually never got more than 3 miles from the airport before the glider would release and the tow plane then returning back for another tow, sometimes a tow every 15 minutes. As such, I got to listen to years of airport UNICOM radio traffic. After a while, I would know who the local pilots were, who knew what they were doing and who didn't, which pilots probably wasn't even looking for other traffic but yet giving position reports on the frequency, ect. etc. One afternoon, a new voice was heard over my headset. I could immediately tell that it was a new student probably on his first attempt at using an aircraft radio. His carrier tone transmitted indicating that he was holding the mike button down while listening to his instructor. In the background I could hear his instructor say, "now I want to to call Stead UNICOM to get a traffic advisory." With his finger still pushing the transmit button, I heard, "Okay, I'll do that....ahhhhh ahhhhh Breaker Breaker Stead UNICOMM. Come on back with a traffic advisory." There were a few moments of silence before the instructor made the correct call and gave position reports.

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | September 23, 2010 11:58 AM    Report this comment

Bertorelli, do you mean a man of your many talents, flying (with a student) an airplane worth twenty to forty thousand dollars, can't figure out how to make a radio work on a J-3? For safety reasons, in this day and time, NORDO should be accidental, not intentional.

Posted by: Rankin Whittington | September 23, 2010 12:20 PM    Report this comment

and on a Saturday morning ??

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 23, 2010 2:58 PM    Report this comment

I guess that those of us who learned to fly in the 1960's at non-towered airports have one set of expectations and ideas to remain in line with the "old, but not so bold, pilot" image.

Those who get wrapped up in technology forget that judgement and circumstances often impinge on their vision of reality.

There are always those how somehow think that every written rule has contained within it the voice of doom and should never be questioned. My experience is that one should always question bad judgement that leads to increased risk. The pilot's job is to constantly consider risk and the associated benefit. If one cannot make those judgments, there is something wrong.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | September 23, 2010 4:24 PM    Report this comment

Some time back we had a safety seminar...with the featured "expert" being from the feds. One question raised was that there were many occasions when there was so much radio chatter one could not get a word in edgewise. How wise was the fed in this one....very wise indeed and it was sadly amusing to see how the question was dealt with by talking in circles with no answer given. I suggest radio is great. It should be an "aid", but there is no reason to rely on radio when circumstances dictate otherwise in the interest of safety.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 23, 2010 5:02 PM    Report this comment

Regarding chatter, when will we all learn that saying their whole "N" number with every call is useless drivel? Say it on the first call, along with type, then on successive calls only the last three letters or digits! Even better, "Red Skyhawk" or "White Bonanza" would be even more useful, unless there are a lot of red Skyhawks or white Bonanzas in the pattern.

Posted by: Rankin Whittington | September 23, 2010 5:26 PM    Report this comment

I'm guilty of "turning the pattern around" at towered airports twice (that is, asking for the opposite runway because that's what the wind sock says). Both times the tower concurred. I've turned traffic around more often at nontowered airports.

And I've landed twice against opposite direction traffic (well clear) at towered airports with calm wind (less than 5K). Once at Stapleton/Denver in the face of a United 737 "please keep your speed up and exit at the first taxiway" contradicting instructions. Not a problem, as I landed in 900 ft at 9000ft density altitude, and the controller knew it would work - I was clear before the airliner made short final. It works so nice when we pay attention!

Posted by: S Lewis | September 24, 2010 1:37 AM    Report this comment

Flying NORDO at a public use, non-towered airport is now negligent behavior? Sorry, in my view, that's just BS. I will concede that it's sub-optimal and that the radio does enhance safety. It's a good thing to have it.

To me, negligent behavior is the pilot who sees with his ears and is so uncomfortable with NORDO airplanes around that he can't even function in that environment.

Negligent is the wrong word...he's incompetent.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 24, 2010 5:39 AM    Report this comment

The more times I read the story, the more angry I get at the Cherokee pilot. He sounds like an IFR pilot that canceled 15 miles out for a visual to 22 and now thinks he owns the field. That kind of better-than-you attitude gets people killed.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 24, 2010 7:18 AM    Report this comment

I have been trying so hard to be politically polite!
Tried so hard it was beginning to get me really upset!
Hooray for Mr. Bertorelli!
Incompetent is a really good word....I know of one guy who flew around in circles near his home (radio)airport(with another paved NORDO airport off his wing tip) after his radio packed in.
AND...why did he not land at that one?...."because there wasn't anyone there to tell me what to do"....
!!!!! (He eventually dumped it -and his passengers into a farmer's field.)

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 24, 2010 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Since I posted the word 'negligent' seems to have put some feeling that's over the top. At the same time you have said, 'but yes having a radio is better'. No matter if you are incompetent or negligent the fact remains you're not going to see everyone and the good pilot that's competent may get hit by the incompetent and someone is going to die. Midairs happen all the time. Here's what the news reports when this happens, 'Pilots have the option of communicating with other aircraft via radio on their own, but not all do.
It has not been determined which plane was at fault, or the circumstances that led to the collision. Oddly enough, the fact that conditions were reported as near-perfect for VFR will make the job of investigating the collision all that much tougher for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), given that weather most likely did not play a factor.' So you make the decision to fly NORDO because you're so competent.

Posted by: Thaddeus Brys | September 24, 2010 8:33 AM    Report this comment

Wrong. There was already visual contact established with a yellow Cub. WHY anyone would keep yapping on the radio to a yellow Cub is quintessential "Incompetence". The same applies to Ultralights too. If you see an ultralight in the pattern then don't yap on the radio and expect ultralights to answer.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 24, 2010 9:17 AM    Report this comment

There is nothing wrong with listening on the radio, but I believe there is an inherent danger in radio use. It is like making a start building it with a strand of string and then another etc. Eventually you get a rope but unfortunately it has wrapped itself around you and you cannot break free of it. Radio is a subtle thing and all too often we start to rely on it and stop looking outside the "ropes" us in and (sadly) some of us seem to stop thinking. To then relearn to look and think is not always easy. It can be very difficult.
The second big trap is to rely blindly on the rules to save us...the simple fact is that the Feds CANNOT fix all things with rules...and it is NOT always correct to lecture others about the rules. Rules are not all bad, but they can get you killed if you stop thinking and might even kill others along with yourself.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 24, 2010 9:23 AM    Report this comment

I just wanted to note that my theory of pilot personality, described above, finds ample support in this comment thread.... :)

Posted by: DOUGLAS GARROU | September 24, 2010 9:26 AM    Report this comment

This NORDO discussion crops up a lot and always divides up in the same way. One group essentially holds that NORDO was good enough for the Wright brothers and that it is the responsibility of everyone else to pick them out visually and then divine what it is they are planning to do. The other group feels the NORDO pilot’s dedication to purity of flight is creating an unnecessary hazard for themselves and everyone else. Taking into account the twin realities of human behavior and 21st century aviation operations I have to admit I find the second group’s view more persuasive.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 24, 2010 11:46 AM    Report this comment

I, for one, am glad that Paul is getting the radio thing figured out in his J-3 so that his insights into the behavior of pilots in the traffic pattern won't continue to devolve into NORDO debates.

Posted by: Robert Davison | September 24, 2010 11:58 AM    Report this comment

Actually FIXING the radio is still not the issue! Having a radio would have only meant a mindless discussion would have occurred in the air instead of at the hanger. You don't need a mindless discussion about city policies on Unicom when the real focus should be on FLYING.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 24, 2010 12:14 PM    Report this comment

Mark, I think otherwise. Had the Cub radio been working and used to report position and intentions, the arriving Cherokee would have known there was traffic in the pattern doing a non-standaed pattern. The Cherokee then would not have been startled to discover a Cub in an unexpected position.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 24, 2010 12:23 PM    Report this comment

Edd, the author said that NORDO was less the issue for the Cherokee than the local noise abatement policy. Since that is all we know about the mentality of Cherokee pilot then that is why I said that a mindless discussion about the "right runway" would have been on Unicom instead of on the ground.

I have had pilots(and controllers) try to make up regs on the frequency. They need to shut up and handle it later when people are on the ground. Distractions are more of a cause of accidents than NORDO.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 24, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

"...Distractions are more of a cause of accidents than NORDO..."

I'd discuss this with you, but only over a beer.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 24, 2010 12:55 PM    Report this comment

I say we start a fund to supply the over-sensitive and delicate nimbys near airports with either earplugs or something like our Arizona stupid motorist law (for those who have to be rescued from trying to cross a raging wash) for buying near an airport then forcing us to fly around them.

And the way I look at NORDO is the same way I look at a possible engine out emergency - always have to be aware of the possibility, just like an alternator failure of radios or a legal NORDO pilot, so that keeps me alert and considerate for fellow pilots, giving them the benefit of the doubt for all to fly safe. Use the rules as guides - there are far too many variables in flying to book quote FAR's and pounce on legal NORDO pilots.

Posted by: David Miller | September 24, 2010 1:34 PM    Report this comment

A beer (as well as discussions on airmanship) are appropriate on the ground and not whilst at the yoke. You're on, Ed!

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 24, 2010 1:37 PM    Report this comment

When all is said and done it is guaranteed that radios are not going to go away. The best system is (under the circumstances) probably to be found in a blend of NORDO rubbernecking and a disciplined use of radio. The danger remains that many pilots do -and will continue- to fall into the gradual TRAP of accepting that radio is the do all and end all. Finally, some of the "by-the-book" regulation worshippers (and not all pilots are) need to mature and relax and accept that regulations do not -and can not- cover all situations. In short, one should be alert and be considerate of others.
I see some of this discussion is possibly in the process of driving some to drink! Ahhhh that I could be a fly on the wall.....

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 24, 2010 3:23 PM    Report this comment


>>arriving Cherokee would have known there was traffic in the pattern doing a non-standaed pattern. The Cherokee then would not have been startled to discover a Cub in an unexpected position.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 25, 2010 4:55 AM    Report this comment

I guess I'm also "old school," if that means assessing the prevailing wind conditions by looking at the sock (how tough is that?) and deciding which runway is most appropriate for me and my airplane. If someone else is using a different runway for their own reasons, it's my job to maintain separation in the pattern and on the landing roll. That might mean a separation of time, space or both. If another pilot wants to taxi over to my hangar for a "chat", well, tough patooties. We make the best decisions we can with the information we have. And no, I would not assume AWOS is the ultimate arbiter of rightness here. That position is already taken, thank you. It's called a wind sock.

Posted by: ROBIN WHITE | September 25, 2010 10:28 AM    Report this comment

"...So how is it that the Cub was "non-standard?..."

From what I read in the next-to-last paragraph of you original blog. If you're making an early cross-wind at low altitude and a downwind at less than pattern altitude you'd not be where I'd expect to see anybody. If you're not flying a normal pattern, all the more reason to have a working radio.

I still look everywhere, and the Cherokee saw you so things worked out. But, as you said, proper radio use would be helpful to and considerate of others.

BTW, we have a

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 25, 2010 12:14 PM    Report this comment

Gee Paul - I think we hashed this one out a couple of months ago. Go spend the thirty bucks and buy the adaptor for your intercom!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 25, 2010 8:24 PM    Report this comment

You wouldn't know this, Josh, because I didn't cover the details. This isn't really about the radio. I have two intercoms and two adapters, the good ones from Icom, with adjustable gain.

But they won't gain enough when using the the intercom without distorting either the radio or the intercom. That's the problem we're working on. (I'm not as dumb or cheap as you might think. )

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 25, 2010 10:51 PM    Report this comment

Edd, apply some common sense and problem soving to this. What would you consider a normal pattern? One that results in a 2.5 mile final? Or one that's tight and close into the airport, but lower?

Define standard.

As noted, the 65-HP Cub will be two miles down range before it can hope to join the pattern at the altitude everyone else is at. So by necessity, it has to fly lower and tighter.

If I'm expected to suck it up on the working radio, the rest will have to suck it up and pay attention the performance limitations of other aircraft.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 25, 2010 10:55 PM    Report this comment

Airplanes fly because of Bernoulli not Marconi. Nothing wrong with NORDO if everbody else would follow that other piece of advice known as "see and avoid".

And while the regs including and surround 91.126 talk about what a pattern is supposed to look like. 91.3 says who's the Pilot in COMMAND that has to live with the performance limitations of his aircraft. so we can keep arguing about NORDO instead of sitting on the front porch remembering when we used to be able to fly, period.

Posted by: John Hyle | September 26, 2010 12:29 PM    Report this comment

Well, on that note, perhaps you are much smarter than me. I had a very similar problem, paid my local avionics shop with the tools to figure out such problems $75, replaced a defective microphone and now my radio works better than yours!
Good point on the differences between aircraft and traffic patterns. I'm willing to bet the Cherokee driver had no clue that landing a Cub with a 9kt tailwind isn't the smartest thing to do - probably a good reason to fix your radio even though the Cherokee driver was probably the ignorant one here.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 26, 2010 4:17 PM    Report this comment

While landing a Cherokee with a 9kt tailwind may not be as potentially dangerous as landing a taildragger in those conditions, it also isn't the smartest thing to do. At the very least it builds a bad habit that when combined with poor airspeed control, shorter runways and other factors explain why RLOC accidents are so prevalent. So yes, in choosing runway direction based on noise abatement procedures without regard to what the wind was doing, the Cherokee driver was the ignorant one here.

Posted by: Robert Davison | September 26, 2010 5:29 PM    Report this comment

I remember watching Duane Cole do his aerobatic routine at Oshkosh. I was surpriserd to learn that he flew to the show, and did his routine, without a radio. When asked why, he said that when someone invented a radio that provided lift, he would get one.

Posted by: John McCarthy | September 27, 2010 3:38 AM    Report this comment

I really got a lift out of John McCarthy's post Sept 27th. He just elevated the discussion to a much better plane! Duane Cole was one smart fella. Radio has become far too much of a "crutch" for many a pilot ... so much so that many are slumbering as they fly -as well they will when brainpower is set aside in favour of rules (rules are "always" perfect are they not?) and radiopower. It might be beyond the capability of some pilots to imagine the fun we could all have if everyone had to use "proper and full radio procedures" at Oshkosh. We should be flying the aeroplane safely -rather than flying the radio.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 27, 2010 6:54 AM    Report this comment

>>Airplanes fly because of Bernoulli not Marconi.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 27, 2010 7:43 AM    Report this comment

I operated a busy flight school at a non-towered airport years ago and this situation was the subject of numerour heated conversations. We operated fixed-wing aircraft, gliders, helicopters and even a couple of 65 hp NORDO cubs. Newly-hired fixed-wing instructors invariably had their students announce every thought while in the pattern (kind of like an early audio version of YouTube. As a result, the frequency was jammed whenever more than two aircraft were in the pattern. This, in turn, caused the instructors to turn their volume down so they cold instruct the students. The net result was everyone talking, but no one listening. How does this enhance safety? Too many of today's newly-minted pilots look with their ears. FAA's VFR policy is still see and be seen, NOT hear and be heard. I agree that pattern radio announcements should be used sparingly and only as a backup.

Posted by: Howard Fuller | September 27, 2010 9:49 AM    Report this comment

To Todd that posted 91.126. Just some "questions for thought" from an old flight instructor. When approaching an airport in class G airspace for landing, on the "standard" 45 degree entry to the left downwind, what is the direction of your first turn? Right! What is a standard traffic pattern? An FAA advisory circular says "1/2 to 1 mile final". When was the last time you saw a pilot flying an Aerostar or a Malibu fly a base leg 1/2 to 1 mile from the field? More likely a 3 to 4 mile. In my opinion, pilots making radio calls that don't say anything pertinent, or just plain wrong, is as, if not more dangerous than a NORDO. "Cessna 12345, 20 miles out for 23, Brunswick". What direction? What kind of Cessna, a 150 or a Citation 10? 20 miles is 10 minutes in a 150, so making the now common, but discouraged by the AIM, "any traffic in the area please advise" (he is not in the area!). Also if there is no response to that request, the pilot will have the mindset that there is no traffic. Very bad assumption.I'm based at a class G airport I can tell you that every day, without fail, pilots call saying they are Southeast when they are actually flying Southeast, enter downwind for one runway when making calls for every leg to the opposite runway only to discover (most of the time) on short final the "#'s" are'nt right. Wrong airport completely (we have another similar looking airport 15 miles down the coast) etc, etc, etc,..... all day, every day.

Posted by: John Martin | September 27, 2010 9:57 AM    Report this comment

I think it is marvelous that some guys still think running around MY air-space, without radios, is a demonstration of aviation skill, & just plain fun.

I think it is marvelous when I hear these stories about the "good old days" of outdoor plumbing, tube-type radios, and no self-starters.

You want to enjoy that stuff ? That's what MUSEUMS are for...!

Posted by: Peter Hartmann | September 27, 2010 10:49 AM    Report this comment

Thirty three years ago, I joined an Army flying club, and the first Saturday morning hangar debate that I witnessed was a group discussion on radio use. And, amazingly, the spectrum of opinions amongst pilots hasn't changed much since...
My instructor, after I witnessed the radio discussion, offered the following advice: "Never stop flying the airplane to fly the radio"
Unfortunately, I have observed many pilots that have done the opposite - they mke eight tranmissions to gt anound the pattern, and if someone announces a pattern position that indicates conflict, these people just keep on making the same canned announcements, not thinking about actually communicating to sort out the conflict.

Posted by: MICHAEL WERNER | September 27, 2010 11:14 AM    Report this comment

Ever flown in "OUR" airspace on a nice Saturday in July, around 11:00am, on the coast, listening to traffic at class G airports on 123.0 from central Florida to Virginia (radios travel along way skipping over the ocean on a summer day) with several aircraft at your own airport, and several hundred at all the others, all talking at the same time? Keep your eyes outside, it will save your bacon.

At an AWOS equipped, class G airport, do not ask Unicom for an airport advisory. Listen to the AWOS, listen to other traffic and make your own decision on the runway to use. And please, no one cares about your N-number at a class G airport, Just say Skylane or Piper Cub or Pilatus when in the area, thats all we want to know, not "Cessna 12345".

Posted by: John Martin | September 27, 2010 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Response to the comment about why airplanes fly. Bernoulli and Newton. Airfoils create lift because of both and at low angles of attack / high speed mostly because of Bernoulli. A review of basic aerodynamics may be in order.

Posted by: John Martin | September 27, 2010 11:27 AM    Report this comment

"Airfoils create lift because of both and "

And yet a Pitts will fly all day long in knife-edge flight...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 27, 2010 11:39 AM    Report this comment

Thats true, about a Pitts. Look at the cross section of the longitudinal axis of the fuselage. A pretty good semetric airfoil flying at a very high angle of attack during knife-edge flight. Just a related item about lift, a Shorts 360 gets better that 20% of its total lift from the fuselage shape and is just one of many aircraft that do. As my friend the engineer says, if you put enough power on it, a barn door will fly.

Posted by: John Martin | September 27, 2010 11:55 AM    Report this comment

By the way, how do I get in on the "beer offer"?

Posted by: John Martin | September 27, 2010 12:02 PM    Report this comment

Wow, this has been a popular & interesting thread and we’ve heard from just about every viewpoint. Regardless of how you feel about it though, everyone should keep in mind that the truly safe pilot is the one who uses every tool at his disposal in an appropriate fashion. For the “real pilots don’t use radios” group, try to accept that radio is not some useless distraction but a really important safety tool, a MAJOR augmentation of see-and-avoid. And for the radio users, don’t let the fact that 95% of the traffic you work with has one lull you into neglecting the need to constantly scan for the unexpected.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 27, 2010 12:11 PM    Report this comment

I know what makes airplanes fly. Check-books...!

Posted by: Peter Hartmann | September 27, 2010 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Just like people follow "policies" without thinking, most just repeat the curve-of-the-wing-creates-lift book illustration without even thinking about inverted flight.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 27, 2010 2:07 PM    Report this comment

Mark, inverted flight for aircraft that are capable of it sustained is the same as any other attitude. Most aircraft, like the Pitts you mentioned earlier, that are designed for inverted flight have semetric airfoils. Decathlon, Extra, etc... All do "it" the same way. However, when it comes to pilots and class G airports, no two are the same.

By the way, a great reference book on stuff that keeps us up there is Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators. (notice they don't say pilots)

Posted by: John Martin | September 27, 2010 4:38 PM    Report this comment

Great discussion. I'm all for aircraft without working radios having the freedom to fly, however I second the notion that there is increased risk. Even when trying hard, you can't always see another plane in the pattern. If you accept the premise that only an incompetent pilot can't see your NORDO plane, you will still be just as dead as he is. Bottom Line: No Radio? OK, I try to keep an eye out for you. But, Good working Radio and you don't use it in the pattern? Rude and negligent. And don't be surprised if I give you an impolite gesture when you don't use your turn signal driving away from the airport! (You are that same guy, aren't you)

Posted by: Will Rueger | September 27, 2010 7:21 PM    Report this comment

The aviation world is big and it has many different facets. We cannot safely exist in our own little solitudes, but rather we must learn about the other solitudes as well -for we all have to get along (safely) with one another. Rules are not so much the solution as an aid. There is no substitute for practical airmanship on the part of an alert pilot.
As I posted earlier, a blend of the two is the only way to go now i.e.... "rubberneck", each of us must use our head, and use the radio as an assist...and the radioheads need to spend much more time looking out the windows.
And the guy leaving the airport without using his turn signal? He is probably on a cellphone...

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 27, 2010 10:11 PM    Report this comment

"are designed for inverted flight have semetric airfoils"

Precisely! Flight using a wing where the air paths are equal over both surfaces of the wing. So where is Bernoulli now?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 28, 2010 7:29 AM    Report this comment

Mark, you are obviously out of your area of core knowlege, or you just like to start arguments. A semetric airfoil creates lift by Angle of Attack. If at a 0 degree angle of attack, no lift because of no pressure differential. Anything other than 0 AOA - lift. The "air paths", as you put it, are not the same except at 0 AOA.

Last post on this subject. This thread was supposed to be about class G airports, which is where I am headed, to work.

Posted by: John Martin | September 28, 2010 8:07 AM    Report this comment

I don't know anyone who can't PTT and look outside at the same time.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 28, 2010 9:30 AM    Report this comment

"A semetric airfoil creates lift by Angle of Attack"

Correct again! AOA is a Newtonian equation, not Bernoulli. Point being that if you have a dogged adherence to a rule in a book that you completely ignore real world events that are more important.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 28, 2010 9:47 AM    Report this comment

Ah, guys...the word you are looking for is "symmetric". No such word as 'semetric'.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 28, 2010 10:41 AM    Report this comment

I was not gonna point that out (since that's also dogged adherence to rules Vs.importance). Just like the story, I'll take reality over words and policies.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 28, 2010 11:01 AM    Report this comment

Question for Mr. Martin: Regarding your “questions for thought” – I am wondering which AC you are looking at. I consulted AC 90-66A, “RECOMMENDED STANDARD TRAFFIC PATTERNS AND PRACTICES…” It does not suggest the “½ to 1 mile final” you quoted. Instead it says, “A pilot may vary the size of the traffic pattern depending on the aircraft’s performance characteristics.”

John Wilson (9/27) - Well said! Also, radio users should always be wary of the fact that they could become NORDO at any time. It has happened to me more than once.

" should be alert and be considerate of others" - Posted by Charles Elliot, 9/24
"...when it comes to pilots and class G airports, no two are the same." - Posted by John Martin

The above comments seem to sum things up quite nicely. Common sense and courtesy go a long way in the air and on the ground.

This brings me to the original reason I posted FAR 91.126. It was in direct response to Mr. Szymarek, who has been awfully quiet as of late. I was hopeful that seeing the regulation would refresh his memory and prompt him to apologize to the “gal” that he lashed out at for pointing out his error.

And, yes, Mr. Szymarek, based on the information provided it was an error, as there was nothing preventing you from using left traffic. Based on the tone of your post, I see an unfortunate trend. One wonders how many people have been turned off to aviation by your heavy-handed ways.

Posted by: Todd Tetzlaff | September 28, 2010 11:38 AM    Report this comment

The title of this post, "Rules to Ignore", is in my view a bit unfortunate, because it seems to indicate an attitude that we should as a matter of course ignore some rule or other, and I'm sure this is not at all what Paul intended to convey. In talking about operations around uncontrolled airports, most of the "rules" could more accurately be described as "guidelines" intended to help get everyone pointed in the same direction. We operate in a world rendered not in simple black & white but in infinite shades of gray, forcing us constantly to make decisions based on our personal judgement of the overall situation at hand. Unfortunately, sometimes our decision won't match that of 'the other guy' and conflict will result. Being an old fart and mellow my attitude is to avoid the extremes: Be neither a slave to rules nor a rebel who ignores them as a matter of principal.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 28, 2010 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps you've heard this one: The FARs are nothing but guidelines for the unimaginative.

Guidelines is the operative word here, I'll agree.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 28, 2010 12:01 PM    Report this comment

Phillip Szymarek was spot on. It's not an "error" to fly a right base or even enter on a right base. What's funny are people who will completely circumnavigate around an empty field just to enter on a 45 degree entry to a downwind.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 28, 2010 1:12 PM    Report this comment

"The FARs are nothing but guidelines for the unimaginative." Cute saying, yes, but don't forget the FARs came into being because some people are TOO imaginative :-)

Posted by: John Wilson | September 28, 2010 1:33 PM    Report this comment

Mark F.

Sure he was. Read the reg. cited earlier. An acceptable option would be a straight-in aproach where maneuvering is done so as to not disrupt the traffic flow, i.e., outside of the pattern.

Posted by: Todd Tetzlaff | September 28, 2010 2:58 PM    Report this comment

"Read the reg."

I assume you do not visit private airports in class G or private airports when Class D changes to G?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 28, 2010 3:17 PM    Report this comment

Unwise to assume. What you, me and/or others do does not automatically make it the reg.

Posted by: Todd Tetzlaff | September 28, 2010 4:19 PM    Report this comment

I knew I should have had my 13 year old daughter check my spelling.

Anyone out there ever shoot an NDB-A or VOR approach to an airport with multiple runways? (What? No GPS! Declare an emergency!) Circle right or left to land on the appropriate runway based on wind, or preference, or conditions, not 91.126. Common sense would dictate that the least amount of time and the fewest number of turns one makes in a traffic pattern reduces exposure and risk.

Another one I have yet to figure out is the “take off, crosswind, downwind then turn directly over the airport to exit the airport area (3 turns and 2 legs in the “pattern”) maneuver”, when a simple right turn out of the pattern after take off would accomplish the same thing with much less exposure and a significant time savings.

Most class D airports when the tower is closed revert to class E, shown by the dashed blue line around the field, not G. Some non-towered airports also have class E surface areas.

Posted by: John Martin | September 28, 2010 4:33 PM    Report this comment

Todd T., you are right about that advisory circular from 1993. However if you look at the "Airplane Flying Handbook' FAA-H-8083-3A published in 2004 you will find the following paragraph.

The downwind leg is a course flown parallel to the
landing runway, but in a direction opposite to the
intended landing direction. This leg should be
approximately 1/2 to 1 mile out from the landing runway,
and at the specified traffic pattern altitude.
During this leg, the before landing check should be
completed and the landing gear extended if
retractable. Pattern altitude should be maintained
until abeam the approach end of the landing runway.
At this point, power should be reduced and a descent
begun. The downwind leg continues past a point
abeam the approach end of the runway to a point
approximately 45° from the approach end of the runway,
and a medium bank turn is made onto the base

I agree with you that all aircraft should(and I think that is what Paul B. is trying to point out) fly a traffic pattern based on conditions, other traffic, aircraft performance etc...

By the way, in that same Handbook, it says that you should not make your crosswind turn until within 300 feet of TPA. That means Paul in his J3, if the pattern is supposed to be 1000 feet will be over Bartow, Fl when flying out of Venice by the time he turns x-wind.

Posted by: John Martin | September 28, 2010 7:11 PM    Report this comment

Todd, like John said, it's perfectly legal to see traffic making right turns (as in following an NDB approach) in VFR. It's also legal for gliders to do so when approaching an uncontrolled airport. It's also legal to practice emergency procedures at uncontrolled airports and that means heading DIRECTLY for the runway. Guess what, be prepared at uncontrolled airports.

As long as no one thinks that they own the field, it all works out really well.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 29, 2010 7:21 AM    Report this comment

I think the whole point to this blog is to use common sense, fly safely and expect the unexpected. I would question not only the Cherokee pilot who landed with a pretty stiff tailwind, but also the cub pilot who is willingly choosing to fly without a transceiver. The first sentence of Paul's article was about judgment and interpretation. Although there isn't a rule preventing NORDO operations - I really must question the judgment of doing so. I acknowledge that lots of pilots operate without radios and that aircraft aren't falling out of the sky left and right - however there is no doubt that by so doing you are giving up a safety net - as is the pilot who is depending on the radio and not using his eyeballs to avoid traffic - whether VFR or IFR.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 29, 2010 8:34 AM    Report this comment

Agreed! Mark, your ending statement says it all.
Safe flying!

Posted by: Todd Tetzlaff | September 30, 2010 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Judgement, competence, and safety do not apply to pilots that do not use a radio, I flew with a commercial pilot that is deaf and mute. For the reg citers, the FAA approved his license with "demonstrated proficiency". He flies 40+ hrs a week most weeks of the year part 137. As for patterns, don't let your tombstone say according to the noise abatement rule and FAR 91..., he was right!

Posted by: DANIEL FOGARTY | October 1, 2010 2:43 PM    Report this comment

A radio doesn't replace a good pair of scanning eyeballs.

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | December 11, 2010 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Radio is an aid. It is not the "be-all and end-all" for safety. Common sense, an aware mind, and good eyeballs are not beatable...even if one is flying a drone.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | December 11, 2010 7:30 PM    Report this comment

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