Squeeze Play – From #5 to #1 for Landing

After an aerial tour of Los Angeles the tower put me into a squeeze play that took me from #5 in the landing sequence to #1. It was great!…
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
23 Apr 2024

LA Tour

We decided it was time to do something about the garage, sometimes referred to as “The Pit of Despair.” As with most things in the home, and on the plane incidentally, it was a “while we’re doing that, we should just do this too.” The garage project has had me logging a lot of hours in the “honey-do logbook.” The problem is that the honey-do logbook and the flight logbook are mutually exclusive and to log time in one the other must be pushed to the side.

I knew all of this going into the project, but just like projects on the plane the hours involved grew at a pace greater than I anticipated. Multiple Saturdays were being eaten up by the project, and although the sun is setting later in the day, by the time I quit logging time at home I was too tired to go log time in the sky.

Two more Saturdays had passed with about 20 more hours in the “Honey-Do Logbook” and I decided to take advantage of my regular Wednesday schedule. I typically finish up my workday a couple miles from the airport, so I took my flight bag and a change of clothes with me when I left for work in the morning, giving my wife a kiss and telling her, “I love you, see you later tonight.”

The skies were clear, and I decided to go on a quick aerial tour of downtown Los Angeles. The Dodgers had an away game so there was no TFR over their stadium so I would fly clockwise around the city, past the stadium and head back to Fullerton.

I climbed up t o1,800’ to stay under the 2,000’ shelf of LAX’s Bravo airspace and headed northwest. Right off my nose was a 737 heading right at me on a right base leg inbound to LAX. I was below the Bravo and out of their airspace, but looking at his altitude on my tablet and with my eyes out the front it looked like we would be close enough he might have to climb. I turned to the east for a minute so he could continue on his flight path and once he was past, I rolled into a shallow left bank and headed west.

There was a little haze which made it easy to see the news helicopters to the west near Santa Monica, hovering there reporting on whatever it was that was happening. The sun was low enough that it was shining off the buildings downtown, lighting them up. The freeways below were their typical gridlock and I was happy to be flying along at about 150 mph.

Squeeze Play

I finished my tour and headed back to Fullerton, listening to the tower to see what kind of traffic he was working. He was extremely busy. There was a break in the action as I approached the 91/605 interchange. I usually try to head there coming from the northwest as it is a charted reporting point.

They work both Tower and Ground at KFUL and he was broadcasting on both frequencies. You can’t hear the planes talking on Ground but it helps him because if he has just given an instruction to a plane on ground you know to wait a moment for that plane to respond so you aren’t swamping him with simultaneous calls. Anyway, there was a quick break and I jumped on it.

Me: “Fullerton Tower, Mooney 1015E, one-thousand-two-hundred over the 91-605 inbound with Zulu.”

There  was a slight pause and then he was talking to somebody else, and then he came back with, “plane over the 91-605 say again.”

Me: “Mooney 1015E over the 91-605 inbound with Zulu.”
Tower: “Mooney 1015E, make right traffic runway 24, keep the KFI antenna off your right side.”
Me: “Right traffic two-four, I’ll keep the antenna on my right, 15Echo.”

I turned to the left and lined up with Alondra Blvd, it is straight as an arrow there and makes a great landmark for a right downwind and keeps you north of the giant KFI antenna. He was right back to working the rest of the traffic. There were two planes coming in from the east, another one on the VOR approach coming in from the south, and someone else but I wasn’t sure where he was. He was busy enough that he said, “Everyone on ground, standby and I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

I normally come into the pattern with 15” manifold pressure which has me slowed to 120mph by the time I want to drop my gear, but I knew I was going to be waiting a bit for my turn and didn’t want to fly a downwind leg 5 miles past the airport so I slowed more than normal, pulling power back to 13” manifold pressure.

As I was passing the antenna I found out just how many planes were in front of me.

Tower: “Mooney 15Echo, you’re going to be #5 following a Cessna, he’s on a 7 mile final.”
Me: “Looking for traffic, 15Echo.”

There’s no way I was going to be able to see him yet at that distance, he’s still probably 9-10 miles away from me at this point but that way I acknowledged the Tower.

A few moments later:

Tower: “Mooney 15Echo, you’re still #5 following a Cessna, he’s over the 57 on the GPS approach.”
Me: “Still looking, 15Echo.”

This was helpful information. I’ve flown that approach a bunch of times. I now knew exactly where to look, and which of the planes on my tablet I was looking for.

ATC’s goal, at its most basic level, is to get all the planes where they need to go in a timely manner without any of them touching each other. As the guys on the Opposing  Bases Podcast like to say, “No touchy-touchy.” When there’s an opportunity to get a plane either to their destination or to the next sector and off their scope they will grab it.

These controllers are amazing, playing 4D chess, thinking moves ahead not only in three dimensions but time as well, dealing with planes at all different speeds. Sometimes that involves a squeeze play which is just what it sounds like. They see a chance to fit a plane in somewhere, but everyone needs to do exactly what they are asking and expecting or it can all come apart causing them to rework multiple planes and come up with new plans.

It is also helpful when the players involved in the squeeze play recognize what is happening. The first time I was in a squeeze play that I recognized was a few years ago trying to depart Montgomery Field in San Diego about 10pm into overcast skies. The tower was closed and I was talking to the approach controller on my phone. “Can you be off the ground in one minute? I have a Cessna that will be crossing.”

I had already configured everything for departure and was ready to go so I told him I could, he cleared us to depart, and I pushed the throttle in and started rolling down the runway.

It may go without saying, but unless the controller has confidence in the players they won’t initiate a squeeze play. This controller has worked me for many departures and arrivals over the years so I “think” he has a good idea of what I can and can’t do, and that must have played into the next few moments of the flight.

I had gone a little past the arrival end of the runway when he saw a chance to get me out of the way and lighten the workload.

You Are Now #1

Tower: “Mooney 1015Echo, can you turn base now?”

As he was talking, I glanced over my shoulder to see exactly where I was in relation to the runway. It wasn’t a super short approach, but if I had been planning to land, I would have already dropped my gear and begun descending in the pattern. However, I was expecting at the time that I was still #5 for landing and was still at pattern altitude, waiting until I passed the Cessna I was looking to follow. But, the glance over my shoulder told me I could make this work.

Me: “Affirmative.”
Tower: “Mooney 1015Echo, start your base now, you are now #1, runway two-four, cleared to land.”
Me: “Turning base, #1 cleared to land, two-four, 15Echo.”

Just like that, I went from #5 to #1 for landing. I was already slow enough to throw out the gear so as I turned base, I dropped the gear for the extra drag and to be ready to land. I also pulled power back further than I normally would on a base leg. I was higher than normal and on a shorter approach than normal and needed to lose altitude.

Instead of squaring off my base I turned straight for the numbers, knowing he was trying to get me on the ground and clear of the runway before whoever it was he just turned me inside of. I was high, looking at 4 white lights on the PAPI left of the runway, and wasn’t coming down fast enough so pulled power to idle. On approach you control you are on the backside of the power curve and control airspeed with pitch and vertical speed with power.

Even at idle I could see I was still going to be high. Pushing the nose over would have me too fast and I would float forever, possibly causing me to go around and ruining Tower’s plan to get me out of the way so I put in a forward slip to cause even more drag and increase my vertical speed without increasing my airspeed. That did the trick, and after a few moments in the slip I straightened back out.

As I was about to cross over the fence Tower said, “Mooney 15echo, winds one-eight-zero at ten, thanks for the help.”

I gave the mic a quick double click to acknowledge him without taking up the time for an actual call and settled down on the runway, slowed, and exited the runway.

Tower: “Mooney 15Echo, did you want a taxi back or to parking?”
Me: “Parking”
Tower: “Taxi southeast hangars via Alpha.”
Me: “Southeast hangars via Alpha, 15Echo, good night.”

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