Oh, Truck!

Posted November 2022

Was trying to chase down the source of my radio noise.  I had done my runup in a pad somewhat separate from the entry point to the active runway, 34.  My airport has a single ~3800 foot long runway.  Winds were calm, 34 is the designated no-wind runway.  Temperature was about 45F.

Taxied up to the hold-short line.  In the distance, I could see a Cessna just turning final.  Close enough that I figured I'd wait.

Interesting approach.  The plane looked low, to me.  A few seconds later, the pilot announced that she was going around.

I craned my neck to watch the Cessna as it passed overhead, monitoring it to see if was actually going to try pull off a landing.  Looked like it wasn't.

Punched the mike button.  "Auburn traffic, Fly Baby Eight-Four-Eight departing 34, heading eastbound."  Rolled onto the runway, lined up, and punched the throttle.

When I raised the tail, I could see trouble ahead.  The airport service truck, at the left edge of the runway.  "Fixing a runway light?" my mind guessed.

Then I realized the truck was moving...and had just entered the runway in front of me.

Oh, truck.

My tail was up, the plane light on its wheels.  Continue? Abort?  Probably still had a thousand feet to go.

Then I saw the truck dodge away, off the runway.  A half-second later, I was off the ground and climbing.  I was probably ~100 feet up, well clear of him.

Basically dismissed it from my mind, then.  It was last minute's crisis, was more interested in wondering why the ignition noise had stopped at full throttle.

After I got home, I got an email from the young man driving the truck.  We had an interesting exchange, regarding the incident.

He had made a radio call about entering the runway...which I hadn't heard.  Normally, I *do* hear the calls from the truck. Was it due to my ignition noise; was the squelch so high that my radio didn't receive the signal from the handheld inside the truck cab?

The second thing, he HADN'T HEARD MY TAKEOFF CALL.  My ignition issues shouldn't have affected transmission, and he did say he heard the rest of my radio calls that afternoon.  I do recall hearing the sidetone from my first transmission, as I occasionally have connector problems (albeit not in the headset I was wearing) and monitor my first call to ensure I'm getting a signal out.  But he didn't hear it.

It wasn't until later we realized what had happened.  We had "walked on" each other's transmission...transmitted at the same time, thus neither of us heard the other.

The third thing?  He was watching the go-around traffic, too. It's possible it was distracting both of us.

Thinking about the day, I remembered keeping a close eye on that go-around Cessna.  As she got far enough down the runway to be sure she wasn't landing, I started forward, looking closely at the final approach area to ensure another plane wasn't on final. Then, as I made the 90-degree turn to line up with the centerline, I scanned down the runway to see if there were any aircraft on it.  I was looking for vertical tails, or even the local flight-school helicopters air-taxiing across to the helipad on the far side of the runway.

Don't recall seeing the white airport truck.  But...if I had, I may have unconsciously ignored it.  It was just the airport truck, I was used to seeing it sitting on the opposite side of the runway.

By the time I was lined up for takeoff, of course, I couldn't see anything forward, due to the taildragger stance of the aircraft. When the tail came up, there it was.

Today, I remembered another factor.  When I taxied out, I don't recall seeing the truck on the opposite side of the runway. Normally, I notice the airport equipment when it was out.  But I was taxiing south, right at a low-hanging sun.  I had my hand up to shade my eyes, but was more interested in picking out any taxiway blockage in the glare rather than rubbernecking around. If I *had* noticed the truck, I probably would have re-checked his position prior to taking the runway.

Lot of luck going our way.  I had plenty of room to climb or abort, whether he'd left the runway or not.  He was driving *towards* the departure end, and saw me starting my takeoff run and bolted out of the way.

We've talked about the failure of communication.  The airport worker is a pilot as well, so he recognizes that radios are a tool that can't always be counted on.  He flew out of an ag field where the crop-dusters never talked on the radio.  I used to tell people not to mix up their Italians while flying... airplanes fly by Bernoulli, not Marconi.  Then some SOB informed me Bernoulli was Swiss.....

Radios are a tool; they should never be a crutch.  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of that.

Lot of high-profile midairs this year...even this week.  It would be just Fly Baby luck to have had a midair with a GMC Truck. Undoubtedly survivable, but the embarrassment probably would have been fatal.

We both learned lessons yesterday.  The best kind...the ones paid for with a slightly elevated heart rate and a "there I wuz" story afterwards.

Be careful out there, folks....

Ron Wanttaja

Return to the Stories Pag