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FAA Christmas Present

By Eric McCarthy 

It was cold and gray, as I recall. Christmas Eve in Boston often is, but the ceiling was a respectable four or five thousand feet with no precipitation forecast for the afternoon. I’d be flying from my home base of Lawrence Municipal Airport (KLWM), about 30 miles north of Boston, to one of my prior home bases, Norwood (KOWD), about 13 miles southwest of Boston, to pick up my mother for Christmas. It’s an easy half-hour flight, replacing an at-least one-hour drive on the crowded Massachusetts highways 93 and 128, and besides, it’s way more fun to fly! My mother might think otherwise…

I had flown N2313M, an underpowered 160-horse Cherokee, many times in my pursuit of the coveted Instrument Rating, which I had secured just a few months earlier. I knew that this particular airplane didn’t like to start after being shut down, so I told my mother, and my brother who would be driving her to the airport, that I wanted to keep the engine running when I picked upMom – under no circumstances is anyone to move forward of the wing!

The flight was easy and uneventful. While Boston’s classic “upside-down wedding cake” Class Bravo airspace is basically comprised of several concentric circles rising as they extend outward from Boston, we generally fly straight lines rather than arcs to reach various waypoints. Departing Lawrence, a heading of 220 for 17nm takes us to Hanscom Field (KBED) where we turn to a heading of 180 for the remaining 18nm to Norwood. Simple. It can get a little congested over Hanscom, as apparently I’m not the only one to have figured out that KBED is a good waypoint to circumnavigate the Class Bravo, but the tower at Hanscom does a good job managing traffic through their airspace. The only other concern, besides other aircraft, is the Needham Towers, 1,200-1,300 foot radio and television towers that pierce the sky halfway between Hanscom and Norwood. They’re well lit, well known, and easy to avoid so not too much of a problem.

The “default” light-wind runway at Norwood is usually 35, but sometimes if you’re approaching from the north, tower will give you a straight-in to 17. This was one of those times, and I made a nice landing and cleared the runway at Charlie. As I taxied to Wiggins, the local, long-time FBO at Norwood, I noticed a bit of commotion on the ramp: flashing lights and a small crowd of onlookers. The reason quickly became apparent: there, in front of the entrance to the FBO, sat a once-beautiful Cessna 310, its empennage looking like sliced bread, and nearby, the offending Rockwell Commander 114 looking embarrassed and guilty. Somehow, the Commander had gotten too close to the 310 and the prop sliced through the fuselage, repeatedly, like a hot knife through butter.

I remember thinking: “Whoa! There’s something you don’t see every day!”as well as “I’m glad that wasn’t me.”There, but for the grace of God…

I pulled up to a position near the door but away from the accident scene, and with my hand on the mixture control, motioned for my brother to bring my mother to the plane, pointing toward the tail. He dutifully led my mother around the back of the plane and helped her get up on the wing. Just as she was settling into the seat, I got a call from Ground:

OWD Ground: “N2313M, Norwood Ground, the FAA Inspector inside would like to have a word with you…”


After shutting down and disembarking my mother, not an easy thing for a 72-year-old with bad knees, I clambered out of the Piper and went in to face the music. I had a pretty good idea what he wanted to talk about, but I wasn’t sure how severe the tongue-lashing would be, or if there would be any more serious consequences. I was nervous and, well, a little scared as I approached the serious looking bespectacled man filling out paperwork in the pilot’s lounge. Fortunately, the paperwork he was engrossed in had nothing to do with me, but he paused, looked over the top of his glasses at me, then calmly explained that it was a dangerous thing to do, leaving the engine running like that. For some reason, I still have this Wilford Brimley as the judge in Absence of Maliceimage in my head… Great movie by the way!

I explained the hard-start issue with the plane and that I had provided explicit instructions that no one was to venture forward of the wing, long before I had even left for the airport – I had not done this carelessly, without taking safety into consideration. He seemed mildly satisfied that I had at least thought about the danger before doing what I did, but he was there because another pilot found himself to be the victim of unforeseen, and undoubtedly expensive events. Things can, and sometimes do, go wrong – Exhibit A was located just outside…

We talked a little more, then, satisfied I wasn’t about to create more work for him, he cut me loose. It being Christmas Eve, and he already up to his elbows in paperwork dealing with the Commander Slice-O-Matic, he sent me on my way with an admonition to err on the side of safety. 

Whew – Merry Christmas!



Flying with my mother-in-law

Speaking of mothers and Pipers, my mother-in-law came to visit us in Boston some years back. My wife grew up in Southern California, and her folks still lived there. They, or we, would travel coast-to-coast a couple times a year so they could see the grandkids.

We’d long-since discovered that it was far less expensive to fly into one of Boston’s reliever airports, than into Logan (KBOS), and the smaller airports were way easier to park at and to get through. For us, living near the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border, Manchester, NH (KMHT) was clearly the preferred venue, just an easy 30-mile drive north. But that wasn’t always an option; this evening she would be arriving at Providence, RI (KPVD), a hundred-mile drive. Hmmm…what to do…Two miles away was a perfectly serviceable airport where I could rent a plane and fly there in about 40 minutes, or I could drivehmmm

Her flight got in around 9 p.m., and it was dark by the time I touched down at PVD. I got progressive taxi instructions, taxied to the FBO, and wrangled a ride to the main terminal to meet my mother-in-law. I found her as she made her way off the jetway, grabbed her bags, and we headed out to the waiting van that would take us back to the FBO. This confused her… “where’s your car?”

To call her a white-knuckle flyer is a bit of an understatement – she hates flying, especially in small planes, so I hadn’t told her that I’d be picking her up in an airplane. Surprise! Am I the best son-in-law or what?

Well, it took a little while to convince that this was the only way home, and, after pre-flighting the plane, we finally boarded. I had rented a Cherokee 180 (N3997R), so I climbed in first; she reluctantly followed. I secured the door latches and helped her with her seatbelt, then began the engine start checklist. The engine fired right up, and we were ready to go – a good confidence builder. I advanced the throttle, but the plane wouldn’t move. It yawed a little, but didn’t move as it should have. I rechecked and cycled the parking brake, but it still wouldn’t move. So much for confidence! Then the light went on in my head – the FBO had chalked the plane!

Well, this was no time to allow my mother-in-law the opportunity to back out! Not only would it have been troublesome and inconvenient to shut down, get my mother-in-law out of the plane so I could get out of the plane to remove the chalk, then redo the loading dance, but she might well have run away given the opportunity! 

I “goosed it!” Kathump!Well, that was easy! I made it look like this was the kind of thing we always do, and off we went!

After that inauspicious start, the rest of the flight was really quite beautiful: a clear, starlit night sky, smooth air, and the cities and towns below lit up in all their splendor. I think my mother-in-law actually enjoyed it – although she never admitted it…

Until next time – fly safe!

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