Permission to land
From the files “stories that started Chicken Wings Comics”:
In the mid-nineties when I was working for a little flight school in Camarillo, CA we had a similar incident with one of our students. She was on her way to Santa Maria (KSMX) with her little Cessna 172 on one of her first longer cross-country flights. In a “Classic Chuck” move, she ran “a little” off course to the west of Santa Maria and instead lined up with Vandenberg AFB on her decent. How she couldn’t keep the two apart is a little of a mystery to me since a quick glance at your approach plates or sectional would reveal that one is your average Class D airport with two intersecting runways of 5,000 to 8,000ft length and inland, while the other one is one gigantic 3-mile-long Spaceshuttle runway directly on the coast. But in her defense, they both are “Runway 30” and only about 10nm apart from each other.
What added to the confusion was that the KSMX tower controller having nothing else in his airspace at the time, yet not being able to see the little Cessna, cleared her to land on Runway 30 anyways most likely figuring the student pilot was further out than she claimed and giving her the benefit of the doubt. In the mid-nineties we were still a few years away from the Foreflight App and their derivatives we now get to enjoy so student pilot estimation of distances could vary quite a bit in those days.
So she landed the little Cessna on the big Spaceshuttle runway and immediately got surrounded by Jeeps and thrown into Air Force Jail. They house all kinds of secret planes and missiles there, and they don’t mess around (or at least didn’t at the time). This was also before GPS and cell phones, so we had the aircraft overdue for a while which caused major concern until she was able to make a phone call and tell us what happened. The Air Force eventually let her go after a whole day when they were re-assured, she was not a terrorist and really had no clue where exactly she was, but it took some doing on all sides. She eventually brought the plane back, together with an instructor we sent to get her since she was a little rattled by the whole experience. I’m certain this will also mess with your self confidence just a little and you might start wondering if you might need a few additional lessons in navigation. Come to think of it, I am not sure she ever finished her license …