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Friday, December 3, 2010

Head On!

No, it's not the annoying commercial on TV ("HEAD ON" For whatever HEAD ON is for!  That you put ON YOUR HEAD!")

I had to make a fuel run last Saturday.  I decided to do something a little different and NOT go to my usual pump at Sherman (KSWI).  Instead, I loaded a new course on my Garmin 430W and headed for Gainsville, TX.

The sky was severe clear, temps in the low 60's, winds light and variable.  I took off to the south, as is normal at McKinney, thanks to our mostly southerly surface flow, that keeps us warm in the winter and the white stuff up in Oklahoma.  The tower had me do a right turn out for a Cessna coming up from the south east.  With cooler temps and only 1 on board 49C lifted through 1,000 ft AGL as I turned northwest.

There was a little wind at altitude - the GPS ground speed was showing 130 kts, so I had a 15 kt tailwind.  I decided to try the GPS approach into Gainsville, which was reporting runway 17 in use.  On the way to Gainsville there are a couple of really tall radio towers near Pilots Point, nicely named, for the GPS pointed them out to me as we approached.  The tallest is 1,999 ft AGL, or close to 2,800 ft MSL.  I was cruising at 3,000, so I wasn't too concerned, but was reminded once more of the need for caution in that area.

I pulled out my new iPAD and loaded up the RNAV (GPS) RWY 17 approach plate.  Passing the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) called AROSE, which is right on an oxbow section of the Red River, which separates Texas from Oklahoma, I made my first call on the common UNICOM frequency.  Horrors!  I heard another aircraft (a Cherokee) announce that he was over the airport, northbound at 3,000 feet to the NDB to enter the hold on the NDB 17 approach.  Well, that would place him right where I wanted to be as I turned onto the final approach course, right at my height, and possibly right when I got there.

Nearing ILOPY, I made the executive decision to start descending early.  The chart calls for 3,000 ft to ILOPY, then 2,500 until on the glide-slope (these are all minimums).  I was already at 2,800 when I started my turn - technically busting minimums, but I decided that was better than a nose full of Cherokee.  As it happened, I was already on the glide-slope at 2,500 ft when the Cherokee went past in the opposite direction 500 ft overhead.

I landed on the runway and taxied off to get my cheap fuel.  Once ready to take off again, I noticed that runway 12-30 started close to where I was, and was already facing the in the right direction.  With no control tower to ask, it was my decision to make, so I crossed runway 17 (making the required UNICOM call) to the threshold of runway 12, and announced my intent to take off and climb to the southeast.  I ran up the engine, and accelerated.

Sometime around the liftoff speed, I heard a Cessna say he was 6 miles southeast of the airport and would descend and enter a left downwind for runway 17.  That would place him right where I was already going!  I made a call announcing my intent again so that he would know about me.  He made another position call, and I responded again.  At around 600 or 700 AGL, I saw him - head on on a collision course about a mile away.  There was little time, but fortunately I was still 200 to 300 feet below him.  So I pushed forward on the yoke to stop my climb, and 20 seconds later he went past overhead, banking right to enter the downwind.

Someone, who didn't identify himself, said "Nice!" over the air.  Was it the Cessna pilot?  Did he even know I was there?  I saw him take no action of any kind, nor did he respond to any of my broadcasts, just as the Cherokee driver plowed on regardless earlier.  Just like driving a car, you have to assume that everyone else is out to get you.  Especially on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in Texas, near an airport with cheap gas.