Cherokee after mid-air
12 min read

I’m writing this story four days prior to the one-year anniversary of my midair collision on December 27, 2014.

It had been a very VFR day and I was cleared for takeoff from Runway 31 at KLNS (Class D) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, returning to my home base KDMW (non-towered) in Westminster, Maryland. At approximately 3:30 pm local time and 15 miles from my destination, I switched from Potomac Approach (125.525) to the AWOS at KDMW. Winds 190 at 5, altimeter 30.18, sky clear below one two thousand.

I tuned to the CTAF (122.7) to get an idea of what was going on in the traffic pattern and verified Runway 16 was in use.

At ten miles out, to the east, I made my initial call announcing my position and intentions. There were two Cessna 172s doing pattern work, a 172 ten miles to the west and would be crossing mid-field to enter the downwind for 16. Another 172 was “going missed” on a practice VOR 34 approach and a Cherokee was departing the area to the east (the difference in our altitudes made him a no factor).

After two more radio calls and landing checklist complete, I was on the 45 degree entry to the downwind for Runway 16 with every light that the Cherokee 140B had on and flashing. Announcing my entry to the downwind leg, I had visual contact with all three of the 172s and their positions were again as reported. The remainder of my downwind leg and base leg were normal.

DMW airport

A busy place on a nice afternoon.

After turning final and adding the last notch of flaps, I gave the traffic pattern another look. Again, the 172s were in their positions. But now a small red aircraft had appeared in front of the other traffic traveling at a higher speed, but I considered him a no factor as he was just passing the midfield downwind and I was on final.

That concerned me because the only radio calls I’d heard were from the 172s. Did I miss his calls? Even during my years of flying ultralights, I’d always adhered to proper radio calls. Now, being on short final with the PAPI lights red over white wasn’t the time to worry about that.

At approximately 200 ft. AGL there was a thud and the 140B shuddered as a glimpse of red passed by my left-side window. Then a red airplane (type still unknown at that point) passed in front of my windscreen, hit the nose of my aircraft, and disappeared under my starboard wing, all in about three seconds.
I briefly wondered if the occupants of the other aircraft were alright, but my focus went back to my own situation.

A quick inventory found Mom in the right seat uninjured, no fuel, fire or smoke in the cockpit, both wings and the nose were intact, the propeller was stopped and visibly bent and the ELT was blaring. All I could see out of the windscreen was grass, and it was getting closer. I pulled back on the yoke and the flight controls were responsive, and recovered from the approximate 30 degree dive.

I wasn’t too concerned about instruments or gauges at that point and went for the that-looks-and-feels-about-right method, being cautious not to stall the airplane in my efforts to make the runway.

The landing was actually one of my better ones and I rolled out to the first taxiway and clear of the active. I was concerned about another aircraft landing on top of us. The timeframe from impact to coasting onto taxiway Echo was 90 seconds at the most. There hadn’t been enough time to utilize any of the practiced emergency procedures, no time for a possible engine restart or checklists.

I turned the fuel selector valve to off and made a CTAF call announcing there had been a midair collision over the approach end of Runway 16. After that the master switch and ignition switch were turned off and mixture to cut off.

Damaged Cherokee 140B

Major damage, but a good landing.

It was time then to help good ol’ Mom out of the aircraft.

I made a phone call to the FBO to verify they’d received my radio call, and the necessary contacts were already being made.

Another 172 was taxiing to Runway 16 and, as I approached him, I remember telling myself not to be careless and don’t walk into his propeller. I went behind the wing strut and he confirmed that they’d seen everything. I jotted his tail number down as a witness, not knowing if I’d see him later on. The three 172s that were in the pattern all diverted and I felt bad that they were going to have to find a ride back home.

With my Cherokee out of the way and Mom in a safe spot, I could see the wreckage of the red airplane, a Pitts Special.

As I got closer, I saw that the canopy was slid back and the pilot was in good enough condition to exit the cockpit and get about 20 feet from the wreckage. He asked me to double check that he’d turned off the fuel valve and switches on the dash, and he had. There I saw the tiny dash panel with no radio, and his headset was a basic hearing protection type earmuff. I hadn’t missed his radio calls; he was NORDO.

He was complaining of severe lower back pain. My medical training consists of a CPR course about 30 years ago so I didn’t feel qualified to make any suggestions other than, “Try not to move until professional help arrives.” I stayed with him until the first police officer was on scene.

After making my way back to my own aircraft, I didn’t see any fuel leaking or anything that seemed like a potential safety issue, so I got Mom back inside and closed the door. There was no one I could call at the time who was available to come and pick her up. The sun had pretty much set and it was starting to get cold.

I surveyed the damage to my little 140B and found the propeller bent, spinner crushed, the nose bowl broken and had what appeared to be tire marks on it, a scrape/gouge on the pilot’s window and the fuselage skin directly over my head was caved in and torn.

Cherokee after mid-air

Six inches one way or the other and things might have turned out differently.

I believe that if either aircraft had been six inches higher or lower, left or right, that the outcome would’ve been completely different and all three of us would now be aviation fatality statistics.

The two occupants of the 172 on the taxiway were headed back to New York, but had to spend the night after the airport was closed. Sorry, guys! They provided me with their info as witnesses.

By now there were county police, sheriff’s department and state police on site and they all needed a statement. I was already tired of telling this story; little did I know of what was yet to come.

Somewhere around 5 pm, the other pilot was medevac’d out. I was told it was a precautionary measure because of his severe back pain.

Various law enforcement vehicles came and went, and for the time being nobody needed anything from me. I climbed backed into the 140B and tried to warm up with Mom. Sometime later the FAA rep from the local FSDO arrived and we needed to start all over from the beginning. A state police trooper said that he’d be there until the scene was wrapped up and my 75-year old Mom with middle-stage dementia could go sit in his warm car.

That was a good thing because I’d spend the remainder of the evening with the FAA rep. During one of the quiet moments in his truck, I said, “It’s hard to believe I was just in a midair collision and walked away from it.” Up until that moment, it really hadn’t sunk in yet. Whenever I had the opportunity, I went over and checked on Mom, and every time she’d ask what happened, why we were still at the airport and why she was in a police car.

The NTSB photographer arrived around 8pm. Initially I’d been told that the NTSB probably wouldn’t be there that evening because there hadn’t been any fatalities.

At 9:30 pm, things were winding down and a majority of the emergency vehicles were gone. The FAA and NTSB were done with me for now and said it was ok for me to leave. The Airport Manager and FBO took care of my airplane and put it in the hangar. All that I wanted to do was go home.

The following day I headed back out to the airport to have a fresh look at things and get photos of both aircraft. Several pilots were there and offered me a ride to get me back in the saddle right away. I went, but have to admit that I was somewhat uneasy, especially in the traffic pattern.

During the week that followed, I received voice mails from local TV stations and one from the major newspaper in Baltimore requesting an interview, but I never returned any of the calls.

prop damaged

The prop was nearly torn off the Cherokee.

Over the next few months I exchanged many, many phone calls and emails with the FAA, NTSB and insurance companies. Everyone I dealt with couldn’t have been any nicer and truly interested in hearing this story – not just from an FAA/NTSB standpoint, but as interested fellow pilots. It was also a rare occurrence for both agencies to have everyone involved survive and able to talk about it. And for that, all three of us are blessed.

My wife never came right out and said that she didn’t want me to fly anymore, but if I’d decided to hang up my headset she would’ve been just fine with it. I bounced that idea around in my mind until the next issue of Trade a Plane came in the mail.

One of the questions that came up in conversation with the FAA and NTSB was, “Did I have any animosity towards the other pilot?” No, I didn’t and still don’t. It was an accident. But, like almost all accidents, it could’ve been prevented. In this instance by the use of a radio. Like I said earlier, the dash panel in a Pitts is tiny and hard to fit a radio in there. But a handheld radio would be doable somewhere in the cockpit.

To say that I jumped through a few hoops before this was all said and done would be a huge understatement.

One of the hoops included a jaunt to the NTSB Vehicles Recorder Laboratory in Washington, D.C. The iPad I was using with ForeFlight belongs to my employer and I use it daily for work. NTSB wanted it, along with my iFly 700, to download the flight information – and it would take about a month. It was closer to four months before the iFly 700 was returned.

My employer didn’t want to surrender the iPad and NTSB said they’d subpoena it if they had to. I felt like a little country caught in between two feuding super powers. The lab tech at NTSB offered a solution that I drive there, drop off the iFly 700 and he’d download the iPad while I waited. He turned out to be a pleasant fellow and easy to deal with. He suggested I come down to the lab and see how they download all the info from flight data recorders. He thought about it for minute and had second thoughts. Since I was an active participant in the incident, my presence in the lab could have had legal ramifications later on if things went to court, so I waited in the lobby.

I’ve replayed this event dozens of times in my mind wondering what I could’ve or should’ve done differently. The fact that the other aircraft was NORDO took away my ability to hear where he was. I was hit from above and behind so I had no chance to see and avoid. I never stopped flying the airplane and used basic stick and rudder skills to recover and safely land the airplane, engine out, with no additional damage. So I’d say that I didn’t do too bad. And a good sized portion luck didn’t hurt either.

I decided to sell my 1969 Cherokee 140B to the insurance company.

As things wrapped up and the phone calls and emails subsided, it was a waiting game for the NTSB to do their investigation. The actual report makes for some interesting reading. The investigation states that the tailwheel on the Pitts is what struck the fuselage over my head. The tire mark on the Piper cowling just aft of the propeller came from the right main gear. The right-side main landing gear strut on the Pitts contained damage consistent with having contacted the Piper’s propeller. Multiple witnesses stated that the Piper was struck from above and behind.

I was cleared of any fault.

When I arrived back at KDMW from Daytona Beach, Florida with my (new to me) 1981 Piper Warrior II and shut down in front of my hangar, a red Pitts Special landed a minute later on Runway 16. Even one of the guys from the FBO who was there the evening of the mid-air drove by and commented on how ironic that was.

I’ve found that having the ADS-B installed in the Warrior has been another great tool in the toolbox for see and avoid.

Now, on those days when I tune to the CTAF and hear four or five aircraft jockeying for position in the pattern at a non-towered airport, I might ease back on the throttle and remain clear of the area until there isn’t so much aluminum in the air to deal with.

Bob Graham
Latest posts by Bob Graham (see all)
29 replies
  1. Tim L. Rogers
    Tim L. Rogers says:

    You are a much more forgiving man than I. I would have let the Pitts driver heal enough for me to kick his butt for endangering my life with his desire to go NORDO just because “it’s legal”.
    These types of pilots grow the GA statistics for fatalities with their selfishness.

    • Stephen R
      Stephen R says:

      Those NORDO jerks are just a big of a threat as any goose or vulture. There’s no excuse to not have (and use) a handheld radio. My opinion is that if you cause a crash because you’re too self-absorbed or cheap to make radio calls then you should have your ticket revoked for life because unaided see and avoid is, at best, a crapshoot.

      I used to have a handheld radio back in the 1990s and early 2000s when I flew ultralights when they weren’t anywhere near as cheap or light as they are today.

      • Richard
        Richard says:

        You know what opinions are………..they’re like that other thing. Everybody has one. Until the FAA makes it illegal, you can harp on it all you want. I have been flying for 63 years with over 27,000 hours and I believe the major causes of collisions is guys with their head in the cockpit fooling with their radios, GPS, or other gadgets instead of looking out of the windows. Radios are nice and should be made mandatory to be able to fly into any public owned airport, but it isn’t illegal so until it is, just keep on griping about it and maybe the FAA will get the word. In fact, why not contact the FAA and suggest that they do make it illegal.

  2. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    Bob, I’m not sure I would have been so forgiving, either, but perhaps after cooling down…. I assume the other pilot was insured, but wonder– did your insurance co. sue the Pitts pilot or his insurance co., or did the insurers work it out together? I am curious because it seems almost every incident or accident leads to someone suing someone else (or lots of someones).

  3. Bob Graham
    Bob Graham says:

    The insurance co’s left it up to me as to who I wanted to deal with , so I dealt with the others guys ins co.
    They paid off for what had it insured for and all of the missed time from work expenses that were occurred while jumping thru the multitude of hoops.
    At the time I didn’t see the need for legal representation. Neither Mom or me were injured , I knew the ins co would pay off.
    IF I had it to do it all over again I’d have contacted an attorney.
    It seemed like there was no end to things that I had to do considering it wasn’t my fault. Looking back it seems like there should’ve been some compensation for the aggravation factor.
    But still I’m thankful to be alive and still flying.

  4. Andy
    Andy says:

    Just my $0.02, but I think there’s something else people should just consider when reading this article. I get the distinct impression that the author, who is (albeit rightfully so) far from impartial seems to blame all of this accident on the Pitts not having a radio. Now I’m in no way saying the author shouldn’t blame the Pitts pilot, nor that he did anything wrong, and I’m sure this was a harrowing experience. I just don’t think a fair takeaway is: “this accident was solely caused by a plane flying with no radio.”

    Now… I am very familiar with the airspace and airports in question, as well as aerobatic flying and aircraft, so this was of particular interest to me. I’ve done more touch and goes at DMW than I can count, and even been in dogfights over the cement plant. I’ve spent a lot of time flying in the SFRA, Part 93 airspace, and a lot of other very interesting airspace. I’ve even gotten a spine tingling “F-16 on your nose 12 o’clock 3 miles same altitude, opposite direction,” radio call. One of the wonderful things about flying in “bad airspace,” is that generally everyone has a squawk, mode-c, and a radio, or they aren’t legal to fly and someone is always watching you.

    Having said all that, I genuinely feel like more and more people seem to be falling on technology, even technology as simple as a radio, as a crutch for basic piloting skills. I’ve flown into and out of airports where half the planes don’t have radios, you hear stories about the days when 60 navy cadets would all be NORDO in the pattern, and no one had a mid-air. I’ve even heard very old and very experienced pilots chew out new pilots for being on the radio far too much in the patten. The simple fact is that in a pattern, flying VFR, it’s everyone’s responsibility to be using their eyes and have their heads out of the cockpit. It’s very possible to do so, safely, as well. Don’t get me wrong if anything I’m always critical of the Luddites that are terrified of new technologies being introduced into aircraft, I just think this is one of those areas where we all need to realize that at the end of the day it’s an incredibly important responsibility for all of us pilots to use our eyes. AND be predictable in the pattern.
    Neither the pilot in his IFR beast with glass panels and 2 radios, nor the guy with a sunny, no wind, no radio VFR aerobatic toy that never strays more than 30 miles from the airport has any more or less right to fly.
    It actually genuinely concerns me that a control tower is being built at an airport that I fly out of all the time at the moment. It simply doesn’t need one and all its going to do is inconvenience a lot of pilots and actually, IMHO, make things less safe because of so many more frequency changes being required and being farther away from the approach frequency you really should be on and communicating with. The reason I bring it up; however, is why the tower is being built. It’s a relatively busy airport, but I’ve never seen more than 6 aircraft in the pattern at any one time and pilots are complaining that it’s too busy and it’s a safety issue. Though honestly I think it more is because of an incident involving a bonanza that raised hell even though he was at fault about something, but… Neither here nor there. I would love to see these pilots fly into FDK with 28 planes in the pattern and the tower so overwhelmed they’re asking cessnas to flash landing lights so they can figure out which Cessna is which, because I don’t think they could handle it.

    I suppose my point is simply that it is legal to fly sans radio (provided it is legal in that airspace), it’s not necessarily wise to assume a radio will save you or give you a picture of every aircraft in a pattern. NORDO aircraft should probably be the most careful to be observant and courteous in the pattern, but everyone should always be conscious of whether not they are over-reliant on radio calls and assuming they know where everyone is. And everyone should watching for the plane that isn’t on the radio and that you haven’t seen. As I said, I think it’s a double edged sword for pilots who must fly with a radio all the time, it makes it a great safety feature at your home airport, but then you may really be the unproficient pilot at an airport where not having a radio is the norm. Or what if a plane has a double radio failure? And thinks they’re actually broadcasting their position. It happens.

    • Duane
      Duane says:

      Andy – you make some very good points.

      I don’t see how not being radio-equipped caused this accident. The failure of the Pitts pilot to follow safe flying practices and the FARs (right of way rules) seems to be the direct cause off the accident as described by the author. The Pitts failed to yield right of way to the slower and lower aircraft on short final.

      The pilot of the Pitts likely didn’t see the author’s aircraft, or at least he didn’t see it in time to react. Being a biplane with both a lower wing and an upper wing, his field of view is especially blocked during turns in the pattern, more so than most other aircraft. Meaning the pilot of such an aircraft needs to be especially vigilant in looking for other aircraft in the pattern.

      Being NORDO by virtue of the airplane one flies is not selfish or irrational, as one commenter above suggested. Also, as you wrote, some of us from time to time are temporarily NORDO (either due to an equipment failure, or due to simply having the wrong frequency dialed in – this happens all the time to aircraft with radios). We can’t depend upon radio calls to separate traffic – it’s “see and avoid” that we are required to adhere to, especially in the traffic pattern.

      However, to maximize flight safety, a NORDO pilot needs to be especially vigilant and cognizant of other aircraft in the pattern.

      Even when we are in full radio contact, we must always assume that others won’t be, so we must “keep our eyes peeled”. With that being said, however, I don’t know that there is anything the author could have done to prevent this mid-air collision. Perhaps he could have kept an eye on the Pitts once he noticed its sudden appearance on downwind, but a pilot also has to fly the aircraft first and not be overly distracted by other planes in the pattern, especially once on short final at very low altitude.

  5. Richard Collins
    Richard Collins says:

    Like Bob, I had a midair collision and survived, It was at an uncontrolled airport, neither airplane had a radio, and the other airplane was busted worse than mine. The big difference was in what happened afterward. Mine was on February 23, 1954, in a simpler time. After the collision we got a little medical help for the other pilot, who was a doctor and said he really didn’t need anything. Then we tided up the airport, went for a few beers and dinner, then home. A few days later a CAA (now FAA) inspector dropped by to talk about it. There was nothing more until several months later when there was some correspondence and the FAA ruled that it was everybody’s fault and nobody’s fault. There was no litigation and as far as I know no insurance payments for damage to airplanes probably because there was no insurance. From Bob’s experience it is obvious that airplane accidents have become job creation events for bureaucrats at all levels.

    MORT MASON says:

    Quite a story, pilot Graham! You and your mother are truly a fortunate pair. I’m especially sorry for your mother, who clearly didn’t understand what was going on. That must have been frightening for her.

    As to the NORAD Pitts, those things sometimes happen even with airplanes fairly bristling with radio antennae. My closest call was at the South Lake Tahoe airport when I looked ahead while on a very short final to see a Bonanza coming straight at me. He had neither listened nor transmitted on any of his several radios, clearly a holier-than-thou pilot who had made a long, long final over the lake, I suppose because it was more scenic from that direction.

    Whether because of fright or embarrassment, that pilot didn’t even land there, but powered up and disappeared. I trust it was a learning experience for him, at any rate.

  7. Doyle Frost
    Doyle Frost says:

    Thank goodness all parties in this nightmare came through relatively safely, and made it to the ground in one piece. After doing some “tailwheel” training at a local airport, privately owned, and to a public airport about twenty miles away, I can appreciate Andy’s comments. It is the responsibility of ALL pilots to be aware of ALL the traffic in their area of operations, at all times. That trainer I was flying was a J-3 Cub, with no radio, or any electrics at all. The owner/instructor had installed an intercom so we could communicate, and via this, had my eyes on a swivel at all times, including up and down. Scary for me, as I had gotten too used to the idea of “necessary” two way radio communication. Folks, it’s very useful tool, n=but when flying, it is of secondary importance to what we can actually see and feel. “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.” Notice what is last.

  8. Richard
    Richard says:

    I agree with what Andy said about flying without a radio. From what I read in the article, it sounds to me like the Pitts pilot maybe didn’t fly the traffic pattern properly or at a high rate of speed since when the Cherokee was on final, the Pitts was on downwind. Surely when he was on downwind or base he would have seen an aircraft on final.

  9. Jim Adams
    Jim Adams says:

    Just wanted to thank Bob Graham for this article. Well written and a great way to reinforce the need for care, visual scanning, and the radio. Personally I think a plane “can” be flown safely without a radio, but for the majority of pilots it would be irresponsible to do so. Use of a radio to announce position in a pattern is not a crutch, it is the most basic and effective form of safety enhancement in that phase of flight. While I know that mid-airs still happen in the pattern between planes with radios (ask me how I know), there is no question in my mind that the absence of a radio in the Pitts was a key contributing factor. I will never understand why anyone would climb into a plane without at least a small handheld.

  10. Richard
    Richard says:

    To add to my previous comment, a Pitts is hard to see out of due to the high and low wings and fairly long nose and that should make the pilot even more conscious of what other planes are in the pattern with him.

  11. Andy K
    Andy K says:

    I was flying solo out of un-towered Santa Paula (SZP) doing pattern work when it got ‘busy’. I was in a 172 climbing out and a pilot in a faster 182 told me (he’s an instructor) ‘don’t turn crosswind’. He was entering crosswind altitude. I replied that I would proceed straight ahead (East) past the pattern area. Upon proceeding East I wound up side by side with a slower aircraft going in my direction to my right: about 4-500 yards separated us. I got on the radio and said I would turn toward the left, circle around ( a half of a figure eight) and re-join the pattern. I lifted the wings for a better look in the process and everything worked out.
    When I was on the ground the 182 pilot/instructor said ‘thanks for listening’.
    As a student I don’t have that many hours but believe the radio is a valuable asset. I was attempting to implement see and avoid and the radio helped me communicate both mine and another pilot’s intentions.
    The pattern is where a lot can happen quickly and aircraft are vulnerable: high vs. low wing vs. biplane, many different air speeds and key positions, etc.

  12. Chris
    Chris says:

    I see it differently than Andy. I think the author does a very good job of not blaming the other pilot (as the NTSB does) or any one factor for causing this accident. He does what all good pilots should do, considers all of the facts and asks what he could have done differently so as to learn from the experience. The other pilot being NORDO prevented the author from being situationally aware that he was being overtaken, and he was hit from above and behind, preventing him from seeing and avoiding. I say kudos to Bob on getting himself and his precious cargo safely back on the ground, and for a well written and thought provoking article.

    • Duane
      Duane says:

      Chris – Andy isn’t blaming the author for the accident, he’s just disputing the contention by some here that this accident was primarily a fault of the Pitts pilot being NORDO, which is a perfectly legal way to fly under the FAR in uncontrolled airspace.

      There was nothing the author could do to see and avoid an overtaking aircraft on final approach to landing, whether he was in 2-way radio comm with the other airplane or not … so the accident was not his fault. The fault was not non-communication by the Pitts pilot, since 2-way radio comms are not required by FAR in uncontrolled airspace. Rather the fault in this accident was the failure by the Pitts pilot to see and avoid other aircraft in the pattern, and to follow the right of way rules per FAR 91.113. The overtaken aircraft has the right of way.

  13. Bob Graham
    Bob Graham says:

    Let me try and shed some light on my thoughts when I wrote this story.
    At no point did I question the legality of flying NORDO in uncontrolled airspace , nor the other pilots right to fly or not fly NORDO in that airspace. My personal opinions are irrelevant. The Pitts had just as much right to be in the traffic pattern as me and the three 172’s.
    My statement was I replayed the incident over in mind for what ” I ” could’ve or should’ve done differently. In that situation I still don’t believe that ” I ” could’ve done anything differently. Had the Pitts had a radio and used it , then ” I ” may have had the oppurtunity to get his attention and avoid this occurrence.
    It’s easy to Monday Morning Quarterback after its all over.
    If I ever run into the Pitts pilot again , not literally of course , I’d like to sit down with him , have a coffee and hear what his ride was like. My plane was damaged but his was a total wreck.
    There was another instance when a red Pitts did a loop in front of me on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern….. but that’s a different story.

    • Jim P
      Jim P says:

      If you ever do get to talk to him, I would be curious as to whether he was flying a rectangular (standard) traffic pattern, or was using the “overhead approach” technique. I find many Air Force and/or Navy trained pilots tend to want to bring that technique into the civilian world with them, and many of the “wanna-be” or “coulda-been” pilots emulate them…

      Without arguing (pro or con) the merits of overhead versus AIM-standard traffic patterns, the fact is that overhead approaches are NOT the current standard in the GA world, and using that technique at an uncontrolled airfield, especially with lots of other traffic in the pattern, raises the risk profile for everyone.

      And, of course, if you’re operating NORDO (which I have no issue with as long as it’s in airspace where it’s legal), it’s even more important to be 100% sure you know where the other traffic is (and will be) in the pattern. The main problem is that no matter how aware you are of the other traffic, the odds are good that they will NOT be aware of you, since you’re not where they would expect conflicting traffic to be… At that point, relying on being able to spot other traffic from a view-limited biplane seems like a risky endeavor to me. Nothing illegal about it, but certainly higher risk than using a standard pattern entry and sequencing with the other traffic.

  14. Joe Gutierrez
    Joe Gutierrez says:

    I have to say no matter what the regs. say, No one has the right to endanger ones life or the life of anyone else. That is flying a lethal weapon in the pattern without a working radio, period, no kind of excuse or opinion is valid here!! The person flying the pitts should have paid for all the damage caused and including any medical. Just because no one died dose not make it O.K. The pitts flyer was completely in the wrong, no matter what the regs say..I’m sorry but two wrongs don’t make a wright..He should of also been given a stiff fine….For almost killing two people..period…

  15. Richard
    Richard says:

    There is nothing illegal or against regulations for not having a radio to use in the traffic pattern at an uncontrolled. It was unsafe and stupid in this case while flying an airplane with restricted visibility due to the configuration. He must have really been going fast or he cut the pattern short for him to catch up to a Cherokee on final while he was still on downwind. Of course we really won’t know for sure so that is just speculation on my part. I agree that he should have to pay for all damages and probably a new pair of drawers for the Cherokee pilot. If the Cherokee had been a high wing airplane, it quite possibly could have been fatal since the wing attachment structure would have been damaged. A radio of some kind will more than likely become a requirement sometime in the future.

  16. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    Most midairs occur between planes with all kinds of radios. See and avoid collision avoidance is mostly luck in an environment of small probability. Maybe once everyone has ADS-B it will help. I suspect not totally eliminate however. I do recall a DHL freighter and a Russian airliner coming together and both were with ATC and had TCS and fully lit (it was night).

    • John
      John says:


      You are absolutely correct. “most” collisions occur between aircraft with radios. However, a quick look at the NTSB db shows that between 1 and 2 midairs occur annually (and over 95% are in the pattern!) between aircraft where at least ONE is NORDO. Often it’s a faster aircraft (like a Pitts) overtaking a slower one. While we don’t know just how many aircraft are really “NORDO” in the absolute sense that the pilot doesn’t even have a hand held, we can probably be pretty close to “correct” by guessing that the total hours flown by NORDO aircraft are a tiny fraction of the population that are equipped with and use radios. Often in the NTSB reports comments are made about the “poor visibility” from the cockpit of the NORDO aircraft involved in traffic pattern accidents. There’s no doubt that flying without a radio, or flying with an unused radio is accompanied by a higher risk of a midair. While some people can attest to thousands of hours in a lifetime of flying with nary a problem, we can also find six pack a day smokers who live to their 90’s and who never have heart disease, stroke, or cancer. But, as a population, the risk is higher from smoking and from flying NORDO.

  17. Jerry Broad
    Jerry Broad says:

    Great article, food for thought. I enjoyed some of the comments, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking. It was an accident, thank God no one was killed. See and avoid, whether you have no radio’s or a full compliment.

  18. Joe Gutierrez
    Joe Gutierrez says:

    I’m sorry gent’s. but this was an avoidable accident, and was totally caused by a jerk flying in the pattern with no radio knowing there were other airplanes in the pattern. If he had had a radio he would of been paying attention to the traffic instead of being the selfish jerk that he is, and endangering other people’s lives, FOR WHAT ? probably showing off !! Sorry but there is no room for these kinds of people flying airplanes. Can you imagine if the cherokee would of had two or three children in it and would of crashed ?? sorry this is unexceptable, and further he needs to lose his license.

  19. Joe K.
    Joe K. says:

    Thank you to Sporty’s for having this go-to-website and story in their newsletter. “A good pilot is always learning”… and this article was a great learning moment, well written and well received.

  20. chris Dansereau
    chris Dansereau says:

    Joe G , your opinion is just way out of line, you are the type of person that would put a stop light at every street. We have plenty of regulations for every thing we could ever think of it sickens me how readily everyone wants to blame someone else or give another freedom or right away in the name of safety. Flying is dangerous and driving a car even more so and nothing , nothing can fix stupid so stop trying to regulate it away, it won’t and can’t happen.

  21. Tom
    Tom says:

    I had a new hand-held nav/com I’d just received, and wanted to test it at an uncontrolled field in the C-150 I was flying then. I did not RTFM (Read The F-in Manual) beyond the essentials, and didn’t realize I needed another bit of equipment to interface with my headset.
    I reported entering left-downwind, and moments later saw the flash of an aircraft a few feet away, descending down and slightly ahead of me. The pilot was chatting with his female companion and was totally oblivious of my presence.
    I quickly dove away and reentered the pattern. Mid-air closely avoided. What went wrong?
    I took the time to read the hand-held manual and saw my error. Moral of the story: RTFM!!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Big Ron – Air Facts Journal: Surviving a mid-air […]

Comments are closed.