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#60 The Roller on the Runway

Lots of people call them “Steamrollers”.  That’s pretty ridiculous.  There haven’t been steamrollers in use for decades.  Still, the moniker has often lingered.  This one certainly wasn’t a “steamroller”.  But it sure was a roller.  And it sat right in the middle of the lovely little dirt runway.  Why it was there was a question that would bug me for a couple of days.Roller

You see, I had a student with whom I wanted to do some quality instruction.  She was an interesting person who’d found me on the internet.  Her 182 was undergoing an engine overhaul.  She was accustomed to staying current by flying about once a week, so she decided to get some tailwheel time with me in the Super Cub.

That morning before I even crawled out of bed I sent an email to the family that owned the nearby dirt strip.  I didn’t know them well.  I’d given some dual to the son and found out that his dad had taught him to fly.  He’d done a good job.  Both father and son were very skookum aviators and I liked them both.  I’d received permission from them to land on their strip from time to time, but I didn’t like to overdo it.  I emailed to let them know I was planning on coming over in an airplane that they didn’t recognize as mine.  I just wanted to give them a heads up. And I told them that I hoped it was okay.  They didn’t have a lot of time to answer and by the time I left for the airport to meet my student, I hadn’t heard back from them.

I told my student that I had a special treat for her and we launched for the private strip.  My plan was to give her a simulated engine failure well above the strip so that she could practice a circling overhead approach.  This is one of my favorite maneuvers and really helps someone develop their accuracy and to develop a technique that could really save their bacon in the event of an engine failure.

Once she had the field in site, I failed the engine and she bee-lined for her circling point above the approach end of the runway.  Then I saw the roller.  It was chugging down the runway and wasn’t quite halfway down the strip.  I just figured that it would probably exit at some point and saw no need to break off our practice.

But as our circles brought us lower, I could see the roller come to a stop.  As we got down to the last circle or so, I changed the game plan and we simply did a low approach.  As we swooped past the roller I could see that there was no longer anyone in it.

I was puzzled, but we did a couple more approaches and headed for home.

Later that day I was on the phone with my pal, Bert.  I recounted what had happened with my email and the roller on the runway.

“Well”, Bert surmised.  “I can see two scenarios to explain it.  In the first one, someone at the strip read the email and said, ‘Brian’s coming to use the strip.  Let’s get the roller out there and make it nice and smooth for him’.  Then, the roller broke down and they had to abandon it on the runway”.

“Yeh,” I said, “but what’s the other scenario?”

“But in the second scenario, they get your email and someone says, ‘that jerk is coming to use our strip.  Let’s put the roller out there so he can’t land!’ “

After my conversation with Bert, I was feeling just a bit low.  Was it possible that the roller was a symbol of someone’s low regard for me and that I wasn’t as tight with those nice folks as I thought I was?  I have to admit that I was a bit concerned.

Two days later I got an email from the son: “Sorry I don’t check my e mail very often….  The roller was broken down on the runway so that might be the next maneuver you will have to incorporate in your tailwheel class… “landing around a roller”. Have fun flying! “

I breathed a sigh of relief.  I wasn’t the pariah I feared I’d become.  And I now had a new maneuver in my bag o’ tricks:  “Landing Around a Roller”!

6 comments to #60 The Roller on the Runway

  • Earl Cherry

    Brian, I’ll have to tell you my story about the “Road Grader” and the closed runway.

  • John Meade

    I see…I have heard the term many times and never understoood the real meaning of….”Rolling it On”

    Landed on a beach a few years back that is shared by neighbors of a friend who owns a cotagge aboud 200 yards from the shore. I was early Sunday morning and we had spoken of me doing this but never confirmed actually going ahead with my plan. As I taxied to a stop from my short landing I see a man, I do not know with a very determined walk and a slight scowl. I had been told many times about landing at a private strip without permission that you can tell at a glance if you are to be cordially welcomed. I knew it was time to go from here so I poured the coals to her and did a great bushwheel take off into low level turn putting my tail to this now obviously upset man. Did I tell you my N numbers are small. It took a low pass through the airspace of the local airport and some tree hopping home to my grass strip where based putting the plane away. I was asked by my friend about a month later about if it was me as the neighbors were all stirred up. I told him for his own safety I could neither confirm nor deny my presence and everyone knows in Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts that the shore front is owned to the mean low tide by the homeowner and that would have been trespassing so the pilot would have been foolish.
    You Think!

  • Martin Tanguay

    I had such a laugh when I red the 2nd scenario, people in the house wondered what it was all about.
    As usual great article.

  • Guy Parker

    Brian, at least your target wasn’t moving! I landed at Sulphur Creek Lodge in the Frank Church Wilderness once, alongside a herd of trotting horses. I had just touched down when they decided they’d rather be on the other side of the strip, and turned en masse across the strip. My bad, I should have anticipated the possibility. I had enough speed remaining to hop over them, and enough runway remaining to complete the landing. Beautiful place!

  • George Feick

    Great article Brian. Years ago as an AT controller, an arrival landed and had a flat tire closing the runway. The aircraft behind the disabled aircraft was planning a touch and go. I told him to “Go Around, aircraft on the runway.” The student then proceeded to land, go around the aircraft on the runway, and complete his touch and go. Sure surprised me. Needless to say, we had a “chat” later. But, alas, he did what he was instructed to do. No harm, no foul.

  • Man do we ever need a roller like that for VanSant Airfield in PA. It would look really good and definitely do the job of making my taildraggers very happy. I have a pull behind from the 40’s. Not heavy enough. Years ago my TravelAir and I rented a hangar based on a private field down south. Took off that morning to hop my rides from a different airport. As usual, it rained that afternoon and I headed back to base only to see a huge John Deere and bush-hog sitting in the middle of our 3500′ grass runway. I landed in the rain down wind of the tractor only to come nose to nose with the grounds keeper. After 10 minutes of cussing and screaming, I packed my tools and equipment in the front of the biplane, departed and never returned. Airport associations are not friendly to daily flyers. They believe we put ruts on their golf coarse. It was a beautiful runway but I didn’t hurt it a bit. Come to find out they don’t allow fly-bys either. I buzzed that field every night for a month. Engine out practice don’t ya know.

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