NARDO Ag operations at municipal airport

Discussion in 'Lessons Learned' started by Ken Thompson, Jul 3, 2017.

  1. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    I was doing a little aviating a few days days ago and flew into a small town airport with cheap gas. (KELA- Eagle Lake Texas)
    One N-S runway. No taxiway so you have to back taxi on the runway. After I topped off, I taxied to the South end of the runway, preparing to taxi on the runway to the north end to take off.
    A crop duster took off as I sat just off the South end. He had made no radio call but I saw him. He made a low left turn out. I waited a couple of minutes to see if he was going to come back. He was flying a very low pattern, so went behind trees. I didn't see him, nor hear a radio call, so I began to taxi to the other end of the runway.

    Then I see the duster coming back, very low, lined up to land as I was taxiing toward him on the runway. I broadcast, AGAIN, that I was on the runway, and I flashed my landing lights. He aborted the landing and flew over me.

    I got to the end of the runway, pulled into the run up pad, did my run up, and pulled up toward the runway and broadcast that I was departing runway 17. No planes visible. No other radio calls.

    Just as I was about to turn onto the runway I glanced left one more time and spotted ANOTHER duster on a longish final about 50 feet agl! If I had not been in a low wing aircraft (and not taken one last look) I would never have spotted him. I yielded to him, of course. He landed and turned off the runway. I then, very cautiously, took the runway and got out of there.

    I realize that many ag planes are not equipped with radios but if they are operating out of a public, municipal airport, the least they could do is carry a hand held to broadcast their intentions even if they aren't listening for other broadcasts.

    It would also be a good idea for the ASOS to have a Caution remark that there are AG operations at the airport who are NORDO. I placed such a comment in the Foreflight remarks section for this airport.

    I realize you should always look carefully and be aware of what's around you, but when planes are not flying standard patterns but are basically hedge hopping, AND not communicating, it really ups the pucker factor. I plan to avoid that airport in the future.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2017
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  2. Art VanDelay

    Art VanDelay Pattern Altitude

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    I haven't met NARDO yet. Is he any relation to NORDO ?
     
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  3. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    Nope, the pilot is the Puerto Rican guy from West Side Story. Career change, don't cha know.
     
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  4. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    Nardo.... isn't he the guy that was in that movie about some boat sinking after it encountered icing conditions..??
     
  5. Norman

    Norman En-Route Gone West

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    And he likely cussed you out for making him go around. A couple years ago we stopped for fuel in Broken Bow, NE. There were dusters working the area, and returning with empty pesticide tanks they waste no time. They don't even shut down while tanking up. That makes me think they get paid by the gallons of pesticide they spray on the crops. Fortunately, we did not have an encounter with them.
     
  6. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    I wouldn't have made him go around if he had used a radio, or had flown a pattern high enough for me to see him. He had just flown right by me when he took off. If they don't want to deal with other planes they need to stay out of public airports. Or get a freakin' radio.
     
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  7. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    Would your opinion and actions be different if it were a Cub or another plane with no electrical system or radio? Or a plane with a radio/electric failure? I'll sometimes see them being moved between jobs as a flight of 2, lead plane being Piper or Cessna, presumably with a radio.
     
  8. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    1. There was no lead plane with a radio. Neither plane, if they had a radio, was using it.
    2. A cub or another GA plane, whether not equipped with radio or experiencing radio failure, would not be flying patterns in stealth mode (like drug runners), 50 to 100 feet off the ground so that no one can see them.
    3. There is no reason in the world why they can't carry a $200 hand held. Don't most sprayer/dusters coordinate with ground crews and spotters?
    4. If this was some backwoods grass strip you'd almost expect some planes to have no radios. You would also expect such a field to be mostly locals who are
    aware that guys are flying around with no radios. But this is a fairly large municipal airport that posts some of the cheapest av gas in the Houston area.
    It's going to attract transient pilots who have no idea they are flying into a field where planes are hedgehopping on final and not making radio calls.
    It's the mixture of traffic that compounds the dangers. If they were flying out of their own private strip, as many ag planes do, it wouldn't matter.
     
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  9. Walboy

    Walboy Line Up and Wait

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    Pretty close. They are paid by the acre with a premium charge for a higher gallon per acre application rate.
     
  10. Stewartb

    Stewartb Final Approach

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    Radios aren't required equipment. Your dependence on them is a problem.
     
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  11. tspear

    tspear Cleared for Takeoff

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    At the same token, the AG planes are not flying the "standard pattern". When you do something which is not "standard" and then you do not announce it, you are increasing risk for everyone.
    Here is the reality, modern AG planes have radios. The pilots just choose not to use them. I get the trying to save every minute because time is money, and a standard pattern adds time. However, having lived in the middle of farm country in TN for a couple of years, I will say most AG pilots act like the own the airfield; and anyone else is an imposition.
    The end result is it is mostly a cultural issue in my opinion.

    Tim
     
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  12. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    1) I mentioned the "lead plane" only because I was trying to show that, for whatever reason, they often don't have radios.
    2) Ultralight planes do sometimes fly like that
    3) My understanding is that they use GPS, or visual flags (old days), not radio coordination. I don't know why they don't use radios. As mentioned above, they don't have to.
    4) I've seen them close to Omaha too. It surprised me the first time. I've learned to look for them. Chances are where ever they were working isn't too far from the airport you were at, since they don't like to fly very far to refill. Possibly within a few fields, and that's why they weren't high. They'll be gone soon when their work there is done.
     
  13. Katamarino

    Katamarino Line Up and Wait

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    This is a pretty dumb statement. Flying without a radio is fine, but if you choose to do so you should make an effort to exercise some common sense airmanship. Crop dusters generally act like they own the air and airports they operate from, but the reality is that other aircraft are likely to be operating, especially somewhere like Eagle Lake for the reasons the OP gives.

    You can't deliberately fly no-radio in a manner that makes it almost impossible for other traffic to see you, and then bitch about the fact that, surprise surprise, they don't see you.
     
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  14. Stewartb

    Stewartb Final Approach

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    Dumb statement? True statement. You can't and never will be able to control how other guys fly. Deal with it.

    You know what scares me? Taking off small remote strips knowing some chucklehead is probably doing some low-level sightseeing and not watching for planes coming out of the trees. Or taking off the same strip under a 500' ceiling knowing that anyone else out there is following the adjacent creek to navigate. Do I wish everyone had a radio and knew how to use it? Yes. Do I remain vigilant and aware that they don't? Yes.
     
  15. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    You can't have it both ways. If they don't have radios, or are too freakin' lazy to use them, they need to go by "See and Be Seen." And flying non standard patterns 50-100 feet AGL does not allow that. One guy took off and flew his pattern below tree tops so I couldn't see him anymore. After waiting a couple of minutes, I proceeded to taxi on the runway to the far end. He reappeared flying a base leg that literally intersected the end of the runway, made a hard left and was headed right into me before he executed his go-around.
    The other guy flew a long final so low that I did not see him until my fourth or fifth scan just before I took the runway. A high wing plane would never have seen him. This is a municipal, tax payer supported, public airport that attracts a lot of transient flyers. These guys should have their own private strip if they want to play cowboy pilot. I, for one, think it's a moral responsibility to do everything I can to let the other guys know I'm out there.
     
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  16. KA550

    KA550 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    In other words, everyone should conform to your level of competency and comfort. Got it.
     
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  17. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    You did your part. Keep in mind they may have known you were there and may have been flying around wondering what you were doing. The one guy did break off the approach when he saw you. As he was going opposite traffic to you, is it possible you were taking off down-wind? Were they working fields near the airport? I once saw aerial applicators working a field next to Wahoo airport and they flew pretty much as you described.
     
  18. Theboys

    Theboys Line Up and Wait

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    I see these guys all the time. Have seen 3 land at same time from different ends on two runways and race to the tanker. They get nosebleeds above hundred ft I'm thinking. They get paid well only when spraying.
     
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  19. mondtster

    mondtster Pattern Altitude

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    They typically get paid per acre, so any ferry time and time sitting on the ramp is not making them money. In Iowa you're supposed to ferry to and from the field at 500 feet, I'm sure this rule gets broken though. Other states may have rules that vary.
     
  20. Clark1961

    Clark1961 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Not just paid by the acre but usually need calmish conditions so gotta spray when they can. I don't blame them for trying hard to save time. You do have to watch out for them during growing season in farm country.

    Even ATC will give them a break if they can when spraying around my home field. I was returning IFR in MVMC once and ATC gave the crop duster priority over me. It struck me as a weird situation where I had to be IFR to safely operate and the crop duster was legally/safely operating VFR. Visibility was good but ceilings were 1300' or so.
     
  21. Matthew

    Matthew Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I've had a few episodes sharing rwys with spray planes. Don't assume they do not have a radio, they may be using their own freq instead of CTAF. When they are working, they are not messing around and will land and takeoff using whatever rwy direction and pattern entry gets them down and back up as quickly as possible. When you see one, assume there is another you don't see. I had to play around with one when I was taxiing onto a rwy at one end and he landed on the other and there wasn't enough room to get past without both of us maneuvering around each other on the rwy. Yeah, it's frustrating, but it's part of flying in some areas. In my experience, they generally seem aware of other traffic and will accommodate, but if you give them an opening they will take it.
     
  22. comanchepilot

    comanchepilot En-Route

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    who cares? Don't need radios. Don't need to fly standard patterns. Where is your regulatory authority? Should they? Yes.
     
  23. somorris

    somorris Pattern Altitude

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    We have a lot of ag operators around here also. An awful lot of them have built their own strips, which is good. Some, however, operate off municipal airports. They seem to me to be pretty careful as a whole, but they are used to operating closer to other aircraft than most of us (have you ever watched two ag operators working the same or adjacent fields?), don't spend a lot of time climbing to pattern altitudes and other things most of us do, etc. I think they are usually aware of other aircraft, but if they can get in/out while you are doing your runup, they will. The ag aircraft are expensive and expensive to operate, and to use an old saying, they "have to make hay while the sun shines." It makes a lot of us nervous because we are not used to their type of operation. Despite the very high number of ag operators in our vicinity here, and although I have heard of some having accidents, I have never heard of one of them having a mid-air with another GA aircraft. Keep your eyes open and don't let their operations distract you from flying your own airplane.:)
     
  24. James331

    James331 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I don't see any reg the AG plane broke, see and be seen.
    Pattern entry isn't regulatory, only the direction of the traffic pattern is, not many working planes will do the full on pattern unless they have to.

    Side note, it's a good habit to look at the "services" section, often it'll help you know what type of activity you might encounter.

    [​IMG]
     
  25. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    A few weeks ago there was a reporter that rode with a fire fighting small ag plane. As I watched the interview part, done while doing his job, the pilot flew under power lines.

    I emailed the reporter and asked him if he knew they went under power lines. He wrote back stating at the time he did not know. The editor of the film saw it and pointed it out to him.

    One of my early bucket list was to be an ag pilot. I never tried it though...
     
  26. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    No, it wasn't possible that I was taking off down wind with 16 kts, gusting to 20. I was taking off on the same runway this guy had just taken off of. He made one circuit and came back to land. Definitely the same plane. Their operation is on the other side of the runway from the FBO. He did one pattern, (actually two with his go around) landed and taxied to his base. The second guy, who came out of nowhere, landed, did a 180 on the runway and taxied to the base.

    I want to be clear that I am not bashing ag pilots. They are generally superb pilots. But when they share airspace with general aviation they need to play by the same rules or someone could get hurt.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2017
  27. rsleeds

    rsleeds Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Two issues: Eagle Lake is nothing like the "big", "busy", or any other adjective the OP described it as. Also, who said the ag plane bitched about anything. They saw and avoided.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2017
  28. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    Never said it was "big" or "busy." But it is public airport and I know that, being some of the cheapest gas around, it may pilots who will not be familiar with rogue cowboy duster pilots. And it doesn't have to be big and busy to be hazardous. Only takes two planes...

    Again, a remark on the ASOS would go a long way.

    "CAUTION! Agriculture operations at this airport do not broadcast intentions or positions."
     
  29. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner En-Route

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    Unless he had an emergency, it wasn't the same airplane.
    Only one bitching about it appears to be you.
     
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  30. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    MauleSkinner, were you there? No? I thought not. Well, I WAS there and I assure you it was the same plane.
     
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  31. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner En-Route

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    Must've been an emergency then. Ag pilots don't do traffic patterns for practice.
     
  32. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    Interesting.... I watched him do two other touch and goes while I was topping off gas. Could be any number of reasons he was doing touch and goes. Mechanic test flight. Pilot checking out a new plane. Rookie pilot getting some practice in. It does not change the situation of flying into public airports with no radio calls and not flying in a matter that they can be seen by other pilots.
     
  33. KA550

    KA550 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    What regulation requires radios at a public airport? You keep mentioning "public airport" like it is something magical.
     
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  34. rsleeds

    rsleeds Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Appears you've edited the OP to remove references about the supposed proximity of the airport to Houston and the cheapest gas driving traffic. No problem, cause that wasn't remotely accurate for this sleepy little drome.
     
  35. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    Obviously, regulations and common sense are two very different things. And "public airport?" It's the difference between driving on your own driveway or ranch road and being out on the interstate. You have to do things a little differently.
    I don't understand why so many people responding to this thread (and I assume they are also pilots) think it's perfectly okay to fly into a mixed use "public" airport without announcing your intentions or flying in such a way that other planes can see you. Why is that too much to ask? This particular airport is not out in Podunk Kansas. It's about 30 miles outside the Houston Mode C veil. So there's a lot of traffic out there.
     
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  36. Anymouse

    Anymouse En-Route

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    Maybe it's because I just don't feel like it.
     
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  37. Ken Thompson

    Ken Thompson Pre-Flight

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    No sir. No content was edited from the OP. Only a spelling error. The reference to cheap gas was in a later thread, not the OP. And, at $2.80 a gallon, it is, indeed, among the cheapest gas stops anywhere around Houston.
     
  38. Van Johnston

    Van Johnston Line Up and Wait

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    Might one of you been on the wrong frequency? BTDT.
     
  39. rsleeds

    rsleeds Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I am sorry you had this experience, but don't understand how you keep making this airport out to be something it isn't (not going to use a word like busy or anything else - you pick the word you like). But, it is nothing more than a sleepy, country airport. Certainly not a lot of traffic out there and the distance from the Mode C veil has nothing to do with it - there are airports in the Houston veil that are just as sleepy.
     
  40. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    From the statement below, his traffic pattern seems very odd given the wind conditions. It implies he was landing downwind, saw you, and "executed his go-around" and I'm pretty sure they don't land down wind under those conditions. As large as those planes are, a 3800' runway isn't a lot of space to land down-wind given he was over the end of the runway before starting his descent. A 16-20 knot tailwind increases the roll-out distance greatly.