Gulfstream Eight Charlie Charlie, go around. The airport is temporarily closed. Climb on a heading 270 and orbit west of the field."
"Wilco, tower, how long should we plan?"
"Not sure, Charlie Charlie. However long it takes to chase a coyote off the runway and keep him off."
I was sitting at the end of the runway getting ready to go, and watched the whole comedy unfold. Here we were, at the end of an 8,000-foot runway on what's claimed to be the busiest single-runway airport in the country, located in the fifth-largest city. And I was watching two pickup trucks with flashing red lights racing around the runway and taxiways trying to persuade a coyote he'd be better off someplace else.
Anyone who has ever spent time around Coyotes, and I use a capital "C" out of respect for the wily old critters, knows that trying to herd them is like trying to put your thumb on mercury. Or catch a goldfish with a fork. Ain't gonna happen. Just about the time you think you've got him, he'll execute a 180, and race right back past you as if you've got your pants down around your knees. The guys in the operations trucks didn't have a chance. The Coyote would leave when he grew tired of playing with them. Which turned out to be about 10 minutes, an eternity when you have multiple jets inbound, and guys like me sweating at the end of the runway.
I don't know for sure how many airplanes were backed up, but there were seven behind me on the taxiway, and I could count five jets in my visual range. It took nearly an hour to get things straightened out. And I knew, for a fact, old Wile E. Coyote was sitting under a bit of sage by the airport fence watching the mess he had created. He was wearing that silly grin he's famous for, and laughing his hairy butt off at us. He was just playing with our heads. In any kind of people/Coyote confrontation, always bet on the Coyote, unless half of the contestants are armed. Then don't bet.
Not a week after the Coyote delay, I was shooting full-stop taxi-backs at another airport, and the student was just bringing the throttle up to launch, when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye on the runway and yanked the throttle closed. I shifted focus, and here came two skinny little ground squirrels (all airport ground squirrels out here are skinny), racing each other across the runway in front of us. Except, they didn't go all the way across. They disappeared under the nose, but didn't come out the other side, so I swung a little sideways to see them. They were right on the centerline, racing in panicked circles. They had just noticed the airplane, and were having an argument about which way to go. If I had a horn, I would have honked. They messed around out there for a solid 45 seconds, finally picked a direction and skittered off into the dirt.
Last year, we had this feisty little bird about the size of a wiry robin build a nest in the rocks next to a taxiway light in the run-up area. When an airplane taxied up, she would come dancing out on the taxiway to protect her eggs. She would actually stand on the taxiway and alternate between charging the airplane and making a big show of flapping her wings and stomping her feet, as if expecting us to back up. It's hard to ignore a mama bear, even when she isn't a bear. On the other hand, I saw that as a typical airport scenario: The airport has been there forever, and the instant someone moves into the neighborhood and builds a house, they start complaining about the airplanes. Very typical.
Then, there were the bees. They were not funny. Repeat, NOT funny. Twice, I had been taxiing and suddenly found myself in the middle of a dense swarm of bees. And when I say dense, I mean enough bees that it cut out a bunch of sunlight.
Out here, there's a very high likelihood that a swarm of bees will be Africanized, meaning they've lost every bit of their sense of humor, and are more than just a little pissed at just about everything that moves. Especially things covered with succulent flesh like we are. I've never heard of a human being killed by bees, but last week, a swarm reportedly killed a horse. So, when you're sitting in an open-cockpit biplane and find a bunch of the manic little guys crowding all around you, it tends to get your attention.
I reasoned that just blasting through them wouldn't work as well as dragging the brakes and putting as much power on it as I dared while I motored through them. It worked because the prop blasted them past, or, if they hit anything, they literally exploded and left waxy streaks all over the airplane. The plane was a real mess.
What I didn't know (and I'm glad I didn't know) was that my student in the back seat was deathly allergic to bee bites and traveled with two (not one) EpiPens with him. His canopy was closed, but the side vents very efficiently funneled bees into his lap. Fortunately, the prop blast slammed them into the vents so hard that he had about 20 bee cadavers in his lap, so he was okay. However, by the time I got stopped and back to him, he was suitably freaked out. He was afraid to look at his lap, and I can't say I blamed him. The consequences could have been terrible: Picture a tiny bubble canopy with 20 angry bees buzzing around in it.
And then there was the time the airport shut down a big section of Bravo taxiway, the one used almost entirely by jets, because a herd of bees had taken up residence on a taxiway light. They were a ball about 18 inches in diameter, and looked incredibly scary. No other adjective fits. Flat scary. They called the bee guys (Bees R Us?), who waited until dusk, when all the workers had commuted home, captured the entire mess, queen and all, and relocated it. African meanies or not, we need bees, so we don't like to see them killed.
At the Copperstate Fly-In a couple years ago, a swarm settled into the outboard strut-to-wing intersection on a Luscombe. So, this poor guy had a basketball of bees attached to his airplane. People surrounded the airplane at a distance and started coming up with different schemes to get them to move. While people were milling around with worried looks on their faces, the owner showed up, took one look, shrugged his shoulders, climbed in the opposite door, fired up and taxied out, bees and all. Duh! None of us thought of that.
And then there was the skunk and my Cherokee. The jackrabbit and the flap ding. The six geese who wanted to commit suicide by Pitts, so they did. This conversation could go on forever, but let's just leave it with the fact that we aren't the only critters Mother Nature created, so it behooves us to get along with, and try to avoid, the rest.
Bee seeing you.