Airport Controversy Is Much Ado About Nothing


by Dave Engleman
As a pilot and former control tower operator, the (letter) about the Payson Airport that appeared in the Roundup Dec. 17 seems nothing more than an attempt to create hysteria over a problem that does not exist.

I learned to fly in a large, lumbering Stinson airplane four years before I learned to drive a car. Flying lessons were taken at the Detroit City Airport, an airport that has been located in the middle of metropolitan Detroit for over 70 years.

My first airplane was purchased from a farmer. It was the "deluxe" model. It didn't have a radio or flaps, it had minimal instruments and it was a tail dragger. If you entered a cloud, you hung your house keys from the ceiling to prove that you were not upside down.

The gas tank was right behind the instrument panel. The gas gauge was a round glass bubble-like instrument. It was not uncommon to have the gas cap unwind from vibration and pour fumes and sometimes liquid fuel into the cabin. It cost $700. It is probably still flying today.

It was legal then to fly without a radio. The most important tool the control tower operator had was a pair of binoculars, not a computer. When you entered the traffic pattern without a radio, you kept one eye on the town looking for a red, green or yellow light to appear form the tower and the other eye on the airliners that were invariably just beyond your right wing tip. You wiggled your wings to let the tower know you saw the light. This was just after World War II. At that time, thousands of men were taking flying lessons under the GI Bill. William Piper was predicting an airplane for every family. He had hoped it would be the Piper Cub.

I can be almost 100 percent sure that Payson will never have or need a control tower. The comment writer must think that at controlled airports, the town has some sort of string attached to the aircraft so it can prevent a "rogue" pilot from flying illegally. A pilot can be a "rogue" at a controlled or uncontrolled airport.

To think that most pilots are thoughtless is nonsense. We all want to become grandparents like everybody else.

I lost an engine over metro Detroit in 1955. I can still see myself looking into the windows of the old Chrysler DeSoto factory as I slowly glided to a safe landing on a city-owned golf course.

The comment writer also seems to think that the town has control of the airport. It does not. The Federal Aviation Administration is in control.

The present left-hand traffic pattern at the Payson Airport is the correct one. It does not matter if the pattern is right or left. You will always have air traffic over the town. Having a right-hand pattern flying into the West will mean that the first turn will go north away from a populated area. If the winds demand a takeoff to the east, the right-hand pattern will take the aircraft over much more of the town.

You cannot have a right-hand pattern in the morning during prevailing winds nor a left-hand pattern in the afternoon when some frontal system brings the wind from the east. Pilots are taught that most airport traffic patterns are left-hand, simply because the pilot who is seated on the left side of the cockpit can see better.

Attempts by a few people in town to create hysteria over the airport are wrong. There is no problem at the Payson Airport.

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