Near Miss

Alistair Mayer is a brilliant science fiction writer and all around nice guy whose stories regularly grace the pages of Analog magazine. He shared this story from his flying days in Canada and kindly allowed me to share it with you here as a part of my I learned from that series. You can find out more about him on Alastair Mayer’s T-Space.


There were a bunch of us that regularly hung out at the local flying club, we’d gone through the same ground school together and were still pretty new pilots. We sometimes did some pretty stupid things. One guy, Terry, once came back with a small tree branch in his landing gear.

Anyway, one fine Saturday afternoon I was taking one of the planes out for some practise and invited Terry along. This was near a small town in southern Ontario, lots of farmland. I’d been practising approaches and — not sure whose idea it was, probably both of us — decided to try a soft-field landing on a large grassy field. The landing was no problem — except that as we rolled out I realized that there was a slight slope to the field and where we were headed was getting softer and muddier from the rain we’d had a day earlier. I was worried about getting stuck, so made a (in hindsight, ill-considered) decision to just turn around and take off before I lost more speed.

So, there we are, rolling along on a very soft, grassy field, slightly up-slope, trying to get flying speed. There are trees at the end of the field — not a problem on landing, potentially a serious problem trying to take off with the drag of the soft field and wet grass slowing us down. But there’s a nice wide gap in the trees, and I’ve almost got flying speed. Terry is starting to look nervous. Then I see the wire fence across the end of the field, between the gap in the trees. The kind that probably eats landing gear for breakfast. Crap.

Actually at that point I was pretty confident I had the airspeed to lift and clear the fence and maybe even the trees (but there was room to go between them), but Terry is getting really nervous. Just to bug him, I took one hand off the controls and crossed myself (I’m neither Catholic nor particularly religious), then pulled back and cleared the end of the field.

I’ll say one thing — I never heard any more stories of Terry coming back with leaves in his landing gear after that.


Bio: Alastair Mayer was born in England, raised in Canada and now lives in Colorado. He grew up reading science fiction, and got serious about writing it a couple of years ago. He builds on a good base: he majored in life sciences and computers in college, has sky-dived, earned his pilot’s licence and done hundreds of scuba dives, served in the reserves and been a member of the L5 Society, National Space Society, Planetary Society, and probably a few other things he doesn’t remember right now.

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