Right Downwind? Are you sure?

Kane`ohe Town from 1500' above the bay

The weekend of July 4th, 2003, I got to play in the Kane`ohe airspace because the Marine base was “closed” for the Holiday and Bayfest. It was beautiful weather, the sky with just wisps of fluffy white and the water was so clear, I could easily see the sand and reefs beneath. I could see many people running around on the sandbars in Kane`ohe bay, as their boats stayed anchored at the edges. Normally when flying through Kane`ohe, the Marine base has a preferred route that you should take. They don’t want anyone coming too close to the base, or interfering with any military aircraft that might be in the air. But when the base is closed the airspace is free.



Sandbars in Kane`ohe Bay


So I took advantage of it. I was doing 360’s over my Grandmother’s house, Coconut Island, Windward Mall, the quarry, Kailua Beach, Lanikai, Bellows Air Station, and Rabbit Island. The bay was beautiful, the sandbars were at their highest, breaking the surface. There were tons of boats moored along the edges of them, and people were even barbecuing. The Pali was clear and I could see down the green valley to Honolulu. The H3 “interstate” highway looked like the gray monstrosity it is, but it had a beauty to it from the sky, glistening in the sun. And the Stairway to Heaven, the stairs that go 2,120 feet straight up the mountain ridge looked like a shiny ribbon all the way up the mountain.

I got to talk to the seaplane from the 70’s television show Fantasy Island while I was playing in Kane`ohe. He was taking tourists for a ride. I also got to talk to Air One, the police helicopter. They were performing a rescue of a hang-glider at Makapuu. They asked me if I saw him crash. I said yes. They asked if I confirmed he crashed before I called Honolulu Radio, I said, “I did a 360 and he was still stuck on the mountain. I had my passengers confirm with binoculars that he was not in a position to dislodge.” They asked if I noticed him flying strangely before the accident. I said, “No. I did not notice him flying erratically, he actually was flying very smoothly. I had pointed him out to my passengers about 30 seconds before he crashed. He seemed to do fine, and then he lost control and rolled into the side of the mountain. We circled and made the call.” After all of that, the hang glider was fine, minor scrapes. After being airlifted off the mountain he drove himself home.


Kane`ohe Marine Corps Base Hawai`i

As for my flight, once Air One was done with me, I headed back to Honolulu around Hanauma Bay, and saw Witches Brew churning like a whirlpool from a Sinbad movie. I crossed over Punchbowl and saw all the tiny flags in the cemetery, and then I got cleared to land at Honolulu in a completely different way than I have ever done before. They cleared me to do a RIGHT downwind landing to runway four right! That never happens! Why?


Well there are five legs of travel when landing or taking off in the configuration of a rectangle. The Departure Leg is obviously the leg that takes you straight off the runway, the next leg is the crosswind leg, this is the one that goes at a perpendicular angle to the runway either left or right depending on your point of travel. The next leg is the downwind leg, this runs parallel to the runway from the departure end to the arrival end. It’s called downwind, because the wind is at your back during this leg. (You always take off and land into the wind. Safer and you can use it as a cushion.) The next leg is the base leg. This is the leg that runs perpendicular to the runway and brings you into position for the Final Leg. That’s right the last leg is called Final. This is the landing leg where you line up with the runway and land the plane.

Okay, back to the story. The RIGHT downwind for runway four right at Honolulu, crosses over the departure end of the reef runway where the very large jets, (DC-10’s, 767’s, and such) takeoff. Because of that hazard, a right downwind is almost never given. I’ve never done it before. But I confirmed that’s what they wanted me to do. I checked the end of the reef runway and confirmed there were no planes preparing to takeoff, I told my passengers I was landing and to remain quiet and calm, then I entered my downwind at 2000 feet. I began my descent. The tower extended my downwind and told me they would call my base leg. When they cleared me to turn base, I was still at 1000 feet. I normally like to be at 600 feet. I was really high. I dropped to 800 feet as I turned onto final, and I could see without a doubt that I was too high. I turned the plane on its side, pulled power and “slipped” down to 300 feet about 600 feet from the runway. I was on perfect glide path. I added a little power and brought the plane upright. At about 100 feet the tower asked if I could expedite my landing, they had an Island Air on a three-mile Final. I acknowledged them and gracefully touched down on the runway without even a bump. I slowed the plane and heard my passengers start clapping. Then I taxied off the runway and came to a stop at the next taxiway. The tower radioed me “Good Job, Pilot. Nice landing.” I beamed, thanked them very much, and got clearance to taxi to parking. It was a great landing in a configuration I had never done before. I loved it. And my passengers had a great time.


About Supovadea

Single Mom, Certified Rocket Scientist & Aerospace Engineer, Private Pilot, Amazon, Dancer, Writer, Eternal Optimist, Survivor, Dreamer, 2,910 NM ENE of where I belong.
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