Rules to Ignore
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.