Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot,

Open Letter to the Jerk on Downwind

As rule, I don't get too peeved at those misguided souls who delight in calling the airport to complain about noise. However, when one left a message he was going to come over and punch my lights out, if I flew over his house one more time, that was carrying things a bit too far.

Now I'm upset.

"Flying over his house" meant I was on downwind shooting touch and goes with a student in the Pitts and it was such a problem to him he had called the airport three or four times in the last several days, twice in the last hour.

Naturally, he didn't leave his name or phone number or I would have called him. Failing that, I am resorting to writing a letter, which I seldom do. I can't find a stamp so we're going to mail it in these pages and hope he reads it.

Dear Sir:

My first reaction to your message was to hop in my car and show up on your doorstep to give you a chance to carry out your threat firsthand. Naturally, I felt safe doing that because anyone who leaves messages like that without a name isn't going to back up what he says.

In regards to my flying over your house: I'm assuming you're the one who calls on a weekly basis and has been living under downwind for something like ten to twelve years. I can almost write down the date you moved in because we had no phone calls until that time, and I've been here for 18 years. The airport, of course, has been here for more than 40 years, which makes me wonder why you moved here in the first place, if you don't like airplanes.

Airplanes must really bug the hell out of you because the last time you called I had a student who somehow couldn't keep the airplane below 1300 feet on downwind. I hope you realize we gave into you once before, when we moved the published pattern from 800 feet to 1000 feet. Well, I'll be damned if I'm going to adopt 1300 feet as pattern altitude just because you had a fight with your wife last night (or maybe she's tired of the fuss and noise and has moved out already).

I don't know exactly what your trouble is, but I'm willing to take a stab at describing your lifestyle. Or more correctly, the lack thereof. Since it was about 20 degrees on the day you complained, I can be fairly certain I wasn't interrupting your sunbathing or distracting you while mowing your lawn or raking your leaves. In fact, I can't imagine what you were doing outside at all. Come to think of it, maybe you weren't outside. Maybe just the very thought of me going overhead, doing something besides cultivating the ultimate couch potato stance, is what got to you.

Yes, that's it. You're probably one of those people who builds his life around Monday night football and Friday night wrestling and who still hasn't figured out the basic plot line behind "Gilligan's Island." I'm willing to bet any amount of money what bugs you about me and my little red biplane is I appear to be doing something that appears to be unnecessary, but looks like it might actually be fun. Worse than that, it might even require some skill you don't have.

The reason I feel safe in making these assumptions is the little airplane and I have become intimately acquainted with quite a number of people who don't like noise or unusual activities. And almost 100 percent of the time, speaking with them and gently explaining what I'm doing calms them down and stops any further complaints. It seems when there's a face attached to the noise, the noise isn't as loud anymore. There's a lesson there, I think.

All of the complainers I've run into fit one basic mold: If you look around at some of your friends who belong to the same complainer's club as you, you'll find you share a common interest, which happens to be an interest in nothing. People who complain about other folks doing something which falls into a special interest category never seem to have any special interests of their own. If they did, they would understand where we are coming from as aviators. They would understand the interest of learning to do something well and the fascination with both the hardware and the unfettered world it grants us access to.

Sir, in all honesty, I have to admit, I have a difficult time understanding exactly what goes on in the mind of people such as yourself. It's difficult to understand someone surrounded by all the world has to offer and not being interested enough in any of it to delve deeper into its intricacies.

I suppose there's a possibility you've never developed any special interests because no one has shown an interest in you and opened a door to invite you in. Remember, however, part of that is your own fault because very few folks want to help a complainer.

I, unfortunately, happen to be one of those perfectly willing to help a complainer if said complainer is willing to be helped.

In fact, I have an informal complainer rehabilitation program I would like you to join. Basically, under this program you come over to the airport and spend time with the people you complain about and try to understand our motivation. In fact, I'll tell you what. Why don't you come over to the airport some Sunday afternoon and I'll give you a couple of opportunities that may solve problems for both of us. But then, it may not.

The first opportunity is that we'll talk for a few minutes and if you still feel like punching my lights out, give it your best shot.

The second opportunity is to see what your house looks like from the air and get a firsthand understanding of why I fly downwind where I do.

You see, sir, when the power is off, the Pitts Special comes down fast, really fast. So I have to move downwind a little bit closer than the guys in the Cessnas because one of the first and final rules of aviation is you don't let the guy on the ground fly your airplane for you. I personally refuse to put my airplane and my students in a position that an engine failure means I'm going to wind up in someone's backyard (hopefully not yours) before I get to the runway. It's safer for everyone concerned if every pilot flies his patterns within power-off distance of the airport. Unfortunately, that apparently puts me right over your house. However, bear in mind I'm higher than I should be and I'm generally running at just enough power to keep the airplane in the air to keep the noise down. In fact, I've modified a lot of parts of my pattern with "groundlings" in mind.

I wonder if you realize that a 1000 ft AGL (above ground level) pattern means we are over three blocks away, when we pass over. Would you complain about a motor-cycle three blocks away?

Most pilots, especially those of us who fly noisy airplanes, go out of our way to be good citizens. We realize we are living in a community in which we are a very, very small minority. We fully recognize we have to be good neighbors or the neighborhood is going to steamroll right over us. Unfortunately, in spite of all those efforts, we still keep getting nasty phone calls from people like you.

I'd be interested in knowing if we are the only problem you complain about. Do you complain to the police about your neighbor's dog walking across your newly mowed yard? Or about their cats frolicking up and down the trees? Do you get mad when your neighbor's leaves blow over into your yard?

Well, sir, I can't do anything about your neighbor's cats, dogs, or leaves, and I refuse to do anything about moving down-wind. I'm not doing that to be hard-nosed, I'm doing that to make sure I live to an age where I can become a burden to my children for a change. I am, however, perfectly willing to get together and talk about this problem and see if there isn't simply a misunderstanding caused by lack of understanding and communication.

If that's the case, I apologize for calling you a jerk and for getting a little exercised. If, however, you are able to maintain the same rotten attitude after our conversation, then a whole bunch of us are prepared to creep up on you late some night and paint a big yellow "J" on the roof of your house. That would solve a lot of the problems. With your house so identified, all we would have to do is have the feds issue a NOTAM to avoid the "J" on downwind.

That way all of aviation will know where to find you and you'll be the first guy on your block to be a federally designated jerk.