Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Critter Delays

No matter what man thinks, Ma Nature still calls the shots

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.


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