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Charles N. Steele

I appreciate your comments on this. Maybe it's just me, but here's something about an informed opinion that seems superior to an uniformed one. Yes, probably just me, since so many uniformed opinions abound on the 'net that they must be more popular.

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

Aren't taxiways and runways marked differently, according to some universal convention? For example, taxiways might have big diamond-shaped patterns painted on them. Is there some other way to make taxiways and runways obviously distinguishable?

John Pepple

They are marked differently, though if you are a few miles away, you won't notice the markings. What I suggested was that he got mixed up a few miles out, and then never corrected himself because of some distraction in the cockpit.

Taxiways aren't marked with anything special you'd see in the air, while runways will have various markings, plus the number of the runway right near its beginning. I always aim for those numbers, but not everyone does.

I suppose you could have some flashing beacon helping you, but it might be difficult to see in broad daylight, which is when this happened. As for evening and the night, there are already plenty of lights that will distinguish them from a taxiway.

Mistaking the two is a problem that will happen every now and then because of human mistakes, just like accidentally turning the wrong way onto a one-way street.


A couple of points on the post and then a story. The first regarding the John Denver accident. To classify the Burt Rutan designed Long EZ as as "a weird experimental plane" and fault John Denver's choice to buy and fly it is an emotional statement that does not square with the facts as presented in the NTSB report.

The Long EZ has a wonderful safety record, in fact a friend of mine is building one right now. The NTSB did find the location of the fuel tank switching valve as a factor, along with Denver's failure to actually fuel the plane prior to take off. As you know a pilots familiarity with control locations and functions is of critical importance whether the plane is factory built or not. In the Denver crash the NTSB found he had not taken the time to properly train himself on the aircraft and in searching for the tank transfer valve had likely applied rudder causing a roll to stall.

Next, I pretty much agree with the rest of your critique on comments by people who don't know what they are talking about because they weren't there.

Now a story: The year was 1975 and my C-130 squadron was operating temporarily out of Frankfurt International, Germany. It was perhaps the busiest airport in western Europe. A normal arrival would have us step down from altitude through about 4 holding patterns and then initiate an ILS approach to 09L (preferred) or 09R. On Christmas eve one of our aircraft was returning from a mission, the ceiling was about standard (1,000 ft) viability about average (1 mile) and the aircraft was cleared for the ILS for 09R with a side step to 09L once they had visual.
The crew flew the approach and when they had 09R in sight they slide over to what they thought was 09L, unfortunately they misidentified the center taxiway and landed on it.
Thankfully outbound traffic was light and there was no other aircraft on the taxiway. Tower called them up and asked if they knew where they had landed. The blue taxiway lights were a give away and they acknowledged they knew. The last thing Tower said was "Switch to ground control, and Merry Christmas."
The moral of the story... humans make mistakes, professional or amateur we all make mistakes.

John Pepple

Thanks so much for your input. I should have been more specific about what was weird on Denver's plane, namely, the fuel tank switching valve. As I understand it from Wikipedia, it was only on his particular plane that that was a problem because the builder put it behind the pilot, when the design called for it to be in between his legs.

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