If you've never encountered a particular circumstance, you may be unlikely to consider it in your regular activities. All of my primary flying, including halfway through my Commercial training, was done in South Florida. Hold that thought.
When I got to the point in my training where I had to fly the Commercial Cross Country, I decided to go visit my high school friend who was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. The trip was uneventful and included a fuel stop in Cross City (CTY), which, although it is a major crossroads in the air in Central Florida, is little more than dusty airstrip and a seemingly deserted town.
After refueling, I turned the corner at Tallahassee (TLH), made the bend at Marianna (MAI), and headed for Crestview (CEW). As I passed the Crestview VOR and turned toward the airport, I checked in with Crestview Radio and learned that they were landing north. I entered the pattern on a left downwind at 800' as usual, but something didn't seem quite right. As I continued past the airport, something just didn't feel normal, but I continued.
Turning base, I observed that all the pine forest in this rural area sure seemed to make the ground look closer. I turned final and to my surprise found that I seemed unusually close to the ground for this point in the approach. I corrected by adding power and dragged it in, but I was puzzled by it all. I got over the numbers, flared, and touched down without any problems. As I taxied toward the terminal I noticed the sign on the building:
I had flown the pattern 200' lower than normal. Instead of downwind at 800', I'd been at 600'; instead of base at 600', I'd been at 400'; instead of turning final at 400', I'd been at 200'. No wonder I had to drag it in. If there had been any people to look like ants, they would have looked like big ants.
All because I had neglected to factor field elevation into my thinking. After all, I was still in Florida! All of my flying to this point had been to airports almost all of which were at the standard South Florida elevation of 9'. Duh!
Last updated: 27 January 2009