A Tale of Two Runways

So we’re on a break from a ground school class the other day. A bunch of us are standing around outside and (for lack of a more vegetarian term) chewing the fat, when one of the guys mentions something about “the dude from Sunrise who crashed and burned a couple months ago.”


Funny how I somehow missed out this juicy tidbit. This would have been just about the time I started flying out of Sunrise. My pilot friend said that certain sections of the local newspaper were conspicuously absent from Sunrise’s copy of the L.A. Times the next day. Not that I blame them. But being the overly inquisitive computer geek that I am, I looked it up in the Times’ online archives and sure enough, 49 year old David Heller apparently got caught in the wake turbulence of a Boeing 757 which had landed just before him on runway 19R. The effect is something like being caught in a horizontal tornado.

If that sounds dangerous, it is. That’s why pilots at Sunrise are required to recieve ground training, flight training, view a video, and pass a test on wake turbulence avoidance (as well as demonstrate it to a seperate CFI in flight) before being allowed to solo.

Wake turbulence is a major problem at airports like John Wayne, where you have small general aviation aircraft landing 75 feet to the left of large Boeing jetliners on parallel runways. Actually, all aircraft generate wake turbulence from the outer edges of their wings, but the larger, sleeker, heavier, and slower an aircraft flies, the worse the turbulence is. And at John Wayne, the prevalent wind often pushes the wake right over the smaller runway. Boeing 757’s have developed a reputation for the massive wake turbulence they leave behind them. There are procedures for effectively dealing with the danger, of course, but all it takes is a little inattention to leave you in a crumpled heap of metal with a broken neck.

Not that this is a problem I’m going to have to be worrying about for the next few weeks. It seems that the Powers That Be want to re-pave runway 19L, so they’re going to close it. For an entire month. For the life of me I can’t figure out why it would take a month of 24 hour-a-day work to pave a 2700 foot long runway, but what do I know. So starting today we’re down to a single runway. Oh well. At least I won’t have to worry about wake turbulence as I sit in a long line of aircraft waiting for departure.


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