Pop quiz. You’re in the pattern at a non towered airport on a calm day, announcing your turn to base for Runway 35, which is right traffic. Just then, you hear two other pilots make their first calls on the common traffic advisory frequency—one of them announcing they’re 2 miles out on a straight-in downwind for Runway 17, which is left traffic, while the other says they’re on a 4-mile base for 17. Do you:
1) Key the mic and calmly inform the pilots that FAR 91.113 dictates that you have the right of way?
2) Ask in your best Chuck Yeager voice if either of them have heard you making pattern approach calls for 35 since you were 10 miles out?
3) Say a very bad word, throttle up, and get the hell out of there?
If you’re me, you choose Option 3 after doing a little of Option 2, though not so much like Chuck Yeager as I might have wished. I probably sounded more like what I am: a VFR rookie pilot doing his best to handle a suddenly very tricky situation.
It’s a common refrain: Pilots who fly out of nontowered airports are nervous about talking to ATC, and pilots accustomed to flying in controlled airspace are anxious about flying into a nontowered field, where there’s no ATC to watch your six.
Also unlike controlled airspace, you’re not required to have a transponder or radio in Class G or E airspace, though flying without a transponder in Class E pretty much limits your travel to the aviation equivalent of your driveway. Even if you do have a radio, you’re not required to use it at a nontowered airport, just as long as you keep your eyes open and don’t hit anyone. The latter’s still against the rules.
So a busy, nontowered airport can feel to the uninitiated a little like the Wild West. I fly out of Mount Pleasant Regional (LRO), a Class G field 15 nautical miles northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, with 3,700 feet of asphalt on our single runway, 35/17. A subdivision immediately west of the field means 35 has mandatory right traffic—to keep the neighbors happy.
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