Short Final: Progressive Instructions


In the summer of 1970, at the ripe old age of 16, with a total of 27 hours (13 solo), I convinced my instructor to let me fly my family’s Cessna 140 from Atlanta to Panama City for my first long solo cross country. My instructor, a former Air Force pilot and my Dad, would drive down ahead and meet me there. The flight down was uneventful.

The morning of the return flight, following Dad’s instructions, I told Ground Control I was a student pilot, unfamiliar with the airport, and needed “progressive instructions.”

The controller said, “OK, taxi runway…”

I paid little attention to the rest since I was to get “progressive.” No read‑back was requested; off I went.

I had taxied across the active runway before his next call, “77021 you just crossed an active runway! Where are you going?”

Me: “I thought you would tell me when to turn.”

Ground: “77021 turn around right there and taxi back. I will tell you when to turn.”

Me: “Roger.”

When I was just about all the way across the active again he said, “77021 turn right now.”

I obeyed immediately even though I thought it unusual to taxi up a runway. I was just starting to admire the nose of an Eastern Airlines 727 pointed at me about 1500 feet ahead and holding for takeoff when the radio erupted, “77021 what the #@*% are you doing? You are supposed to be on the taxiway! Turn around and get off the runway immediately!”

In my sixteen‑year‑old, and now rattled, mind the fastest way to comply was to add full power and leave.

I did.

Seconds later, and now very loudly, “77021…..” I don’t know the rest because, sensing it would not be something I wanted to hear, I did the next reasonable thing—turned the radio off and headed north. “Aviate first, communicate later,” Dad always said.

I never heard from the FAA about the incident. The Eastern lads probably had a good laugh, but I’m sure the control tower was filled with paint‑blistering oaths.

Scott Riley

Augusta, GA

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  1. Taxiing can be confusing. Even more so than flying. I once got lost at night in a big uncontrolled field, and blundered into a vacant area next to the tarmac. Luckily my Cessna 170 was ideal for wandering through the weeds.

  2. After years of aviating around the world in the 141 the the 747, I had a good chuckle over this story. I have had to sympathize with ground controllers everywhere over the antics of some o my fellow aviators. This is especially true in the “International” arena. Between language difficulties and some crews not understanding airport diagrams, confusion can reign supreme quickly. Some of the funniest (and scariest) incidents occurred at KJFK, an airport I frequented for the final 20 years of my career. Clearly, the author got some good and bad advise all wrapped up in good intentions.