How do you write about a near miss? Let’s see; there I was. No, that’s been done before. How about just the facts. Well, there we were. Lowell had just called V1 so we were committed to fly when I saw the glider. It appeared from the brush to the left and rolled onto the runway. It was near enough that I was going to loose sight of it under the nose as it rolled across the runway. I said “glider” but nobody remembers that but me. Spoiler alert, we survived.
Later, Lowell said he had looked up in time to see the problem. Next, he located the airspeed indicator and decided we were going to fly. He was right. We weren’t loaded and I was wrenching on the vericam switch, that’s the trim, because you don’t pull a P2 off the runway without a little help. We also had a Tim sitting wedged in middle in the engineer position. He was blissfully ignorant of the problem.
So how does this happen? According to current thinking, it’s the cheese, Swiss Cheese, the holes lining up. I can’t dispute that. It was our first flight after winter maintenance and ground training. It always seems like there’s a lot going on when I haven’t been in the airplane for awhile. We had been methodical, taking our time doing the run-up, working through the checklists. Lowell doesn’t cut me any slack if I give him the wrong response. The wind was not outrageous, ten to fifteen on the surface but gusty and from the right, having tumbled down Kingsbury grade from Lake Tahoe. The run-up went well, the jets were idling with a high-pitched moan. We hadn’t heard any traffic on Unicom. Lowell announced our intention to occupy runway 16 for the purpose of taking off. We scanned the airspace to the east and the runway as we pulled onto the taxiway in a left turn. I had a view of the approach, reported it clear and then called for the line-up checklist.
I wrestled the controls through to the stops. “Controls free, full travel.” Lowell was writing the time down then turned the transponder to ALT, positioned the oil coolers and cowls, then barked, “Hatches.”
“Closed right. Mixtures.”
I delayed until we were on the runway lined up. “Stage the jets.”
Lowell was already tweaking the jet throttles. He called staged as we aligned with the centerline.
The heading was good on my side. “Checked left,” I reported.
“Checked right. Line up check complete.”
I set thirty inches MAP on the big round engines, pulled the yoke back in order to see the hydraulic pressures and fuel flow then moved on to the round engine instruments. Looking good. I called for max power, the jets, although we were empty, we wanted to make sure it was available. Lowell pushed the levers up while I began walking the round engine throttles to fifty inches MAP. I hesitated until things stabilized, the left torque lagged. We had noted it on previous ground runs concluding it did not indicate a problem. I released the breaks and we began to roll.
“Fuel flow, torque’s coming up,” reported Lowell. “Airspeeds alive.”
“Mine’s alive,” I added.
The plane accelerated rapidly. Lowell held the nose down with the aileron into the wind. At fifty knots I grabbed the yoke.
“I’ve got the yoke,” I called.
“Eighty knots,” reported Lowell. Shortly thereafter, “V1.”
Then the glider appeared.
When we secured the airplane after our first flight of the year we had visitors. The owner of the glider operation was on the ramp with the instructor pilot who had the excellent view of tanker 48 about to fly.
The scenario. The glider, piloted by a student, had returned to the airport after a lesson with their battery-powered radio having failed. Due to the wind conditions they had opted to land on a closed runway. On final the instructor explained he had taken the controls for the landing because the student was having difficulties controlling the aircraft. I paraphrase. He appeared contrite.
I suggested, in the future, that an effort should be made to remain clear of the active runway without radio communications.
Although no radio is required at Minden Airport, the glider operation required their gliders to have radios and use them. In the future they planned to operate with two radios if the only option was battery power. They also saw the value of remaining clear to the active runway.
I wrote a narrative about the incident and gave it to the airport manager and submitted a NASA report for the FAA.
A number of people had witnessed the runway incursion, near miss, potential disaster, etc. and it came to the attention of the local FAA DPE who happened to be Minden Airs operations inspector. A period of time lapsed before I got a call from the man. We had a cordial discussion and I did my best to give him my recollection of the incident.
Time passed. I got another call from the man. It seemed he had spent weeks talking to witnesses, reviewing regulations, and doing what FAA inspectors do when they’re solving problems. After a somewhat rambling drawn out review of the facts he announced that I need to accept the blame of the problem. I took exception to his conclusion. He explained that FAA regulations specified gliders have the right-of-way and therefore I needed to accept the blame. I told him I was done talking to him. Spoiler alert. We worked it out. He explained he was required to counsel offenders. I told him I had done my job but I would listen, without comment, until he was done counseling. Once again, I paraphrase.
I don’t think all FAA folks take this sort of approach when attempting to analyze problems and mitigate future risk scenarios. I don’t know what it all means. But that’s the facts Jack.