Friday, August 19, 2005


Flying Lesson #44

There's really nothing in the lesson plan until my next dual cross-country flight, which we couldn't schedule until next Friday, so I made another solo flight today. It was cut a little short due to precipitation moving into the area, but it was still enjoyable.

I made a dumb-student-pilot mistake when returning to the airport. I was told to report on a three-mile base, but I didn't do exactly what was expected, and the controller didn't realize where I was. As a result, I was on short final behind another plane which had just completed the "stop" part of a stop-and-go. When the controller realized where I was, he ordered the other plane off the runway immediately. I did a go-around. Nobody yelled at me, but after discussing it with my instructor I know the confusion was entirely my fault. My apologies go out to the poor pilot who had to clear the runway. Now I know what a three-mile base is.

Logged today: 1.2 hours solo in N4363D, with one takeoff and one landing. Cost: $125.83.

I remember a discussion (on Usenet?) a while back where no one, not even instructors and controllers, could agree on what a phrase like "three-mile base" is supposed to mean (on base leg three miles from the turn to final? on base leg three miles from the airport? anywhere on base leg for a three-mile final?) -- about the only thing they could agree on is that it's an excellent illustration of the danger of non-standard phraseology.

So, you can accept some blame, if you insist, for not demanding clarification from ATC, but I'd say that the controller is at least equally to blame (if not more). They cannot count on everyone being a local pilot, like your instructor, who has gotten used to the way they do things.
The instructor mentioned that the tower had just recently started using the "three-mile right base" phraseology. It's the first time I'd heard it while in the air.

My interpretation of the instruction comes from the book Say Again, Please (which is not official). It says that a phrase like 'three miles left base' means three miles from the extended centerline. Apparently our tower expects it to mean "three miles from the runway."

Something I left out of my initial description is that the controller giving me instructions was a voice I'd never heard before. That voice told the stop-and-go pilot in front of me to stop, and wait for instructions for when to go. When I turned final, I heard a different, familiar voice say that a plane was on short final and that the plane on the runway needed to move. Then the other voice told the plane on the runway to exit. I suspect there was some confusion and/or shifting or roles in the tower, maybe a student controller (PDK has some of those).

Whether I screwed up or not, the lesson I learned was to pay attention. Maybe I should have asked for clarification, but I remembered what the book I read said, and I was too embarrassed to ask "what does 'three-mile left base' mean?" I'll try to overcome such embarrassment in the future.
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