Airplane in sun

As we breathe a sigh of relief after the amazing outcome of the serious midair in Denver this month, with a parachuting Cirrus and a cool Metro pilot unaware of the chunk taken away from his plane, I am driven to think of my own near misses, the learnings from it, and how to avoid them altogether.

The principle of the implementation of Air Traffic Control was to address the fact that, although huge, the sky is limited, especially by airspace, airways, and approach paths. As they got busier and busier by the first half of the 20th century, high profile midair collisions happened, inspiring the incredible system we have today, capable of handling thousands of flights per day nearly flawlessly. Yes, I used the word “nearly” on purpose, because ATC is made and followed by humans, therefore, some mistakes do happen—or in many cases ATC is unable to arrest some pilot mistakes fast enough. And from the very beginning of controlled airspace comes the first near miss I had.

Cessna

A high wing climbing into a low wing airplane is a dangerous combination.

I learned to fly at an uncontrolled airfield in central Florida, therefore we used a CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) to coordinate the traffic among ourselves. Curiously, students tend to get scared of talking to a tower, but the truth is, at controlled fields you pretty much do whatever you are told. At uncontrolled ones, it is much more critical to know where you are, where others are, and how to get where you want to and how to communicate that effectively. And since we always had a busy skydiving activity going on, with the SkyVan and Pilatus pilots using the crossing runway to save time, the room for mistakes was even smaller. With time and practice, most of us dealt well with it, and despite parachuters raining over the field on sunny days, their pilots were really good in land and hold short operations.

As I did my first takeoff ever, in a Cessna 152 that warm afternoon in May 2012, we climbed out off runway 30 with the not so great Cessna rate, and after reaching 700 ft we turned 45 degrees to the right to head to what we used to call the “northern practice area.” Completely overwhelmed by those first minutes as a student pilot in a real airplane, with my instructor busy telling me things, we were climbing through about 2000 ft—unaware of a commercial multiengine checkride happening three miles behind, two miles behind, one mile behind…

My promising pilot career almost ended in the first 10 minutes logged. The Piper PA-34 Seneca just passed us from the right, maybe with the trainee under the hood, or the examiner looking at something else—we will never know, as they never saw us. Fortunately we were a couple hundred feet apart, and both my career and theirs is still on nearly a decade later.

We were in Class E airspace, but heading to the practice area, 15 miles north, for maneuvers. Thus, we were both out of the airport frequency, but not yet reporting on the practice area radio. So, first lesson here: data shows that over half of mid-air collisions happen from behind, when a faster aircraft overtakes a slower one. This is true in the pattern and en route alike. So, always think ahead—even more so if you are flying a fast one.

What takes me to the second near miss I had, much later. Months passed and as a Private Pilot with an Instrument rating, I rented a Cessna 152 to build hours. I knew that ahead of me there was Cessna 172 who had departed minutes earlier. As I took off and headed out of the pattern to call approach and ask for a VFR flight following, I kept climbing. Again, we were outside of Class C airspace, so it took a while to get two-way radio communication, a discrete transponder code, and ident.

Out of nowhere, the Cessna 172 just appeared—very close to my head! I made a quick left turn, avoided the other airplane, and life went on. Apparently the instructor in the other airplane had exactly the same path in mind when she took off, but since she flew a bit more to the north before returning, we ended up at nearly the same point in space and time, despite the difference in time and performance: recipe for disaster.

Second lesson: high wing airplanes give you a nice view of the ground, but they can get you in trouble with traffic above. Keep that in mind.

Airplane in sun

Haze, bright sun, and other factors can make it hard to spot another airplane if you don’t know where to look.

One year later, already a commercial multiengine pilot but still seeking a job, I did my favorite vacation program: cross-country with friends. We were renting a beautiful Piper Archer, equipped with a Garmin 530 that actually showed traffic! As trivial as it is today to fly with that information over busy Gulf skies, at that time it was a game changer. I even liked night cross-countries a lot because spotting other targets was much easier. With that powerful feature, what could go wrong flying on a beautiful morning from South Florida to DC?

Somewhere over the Georgia coast, under VFR flight following with Savannah, we saw a target on the GPS screen. It was climbing, from below us. We asked Savannah, but the guy was not talking to them. We just turned left and the Cirrus passed like an elevator less than half a mile east of us.

Lesson three: ADS-B is an amazing tool, and we might get some improvement in the number of mid-airs with its introduction.

A few days later, we jumped in the backseat of a friend’s Cessna 172 in Virginia and crossed the Appalachians to have an amazing steak for lunch. It was a short flight and the guys decided not to call anyone but the destination airport. Just as we were over a valley, trying to find our destination in the morning haze, a single engine piston showed up out of nowhere and my friend had to quickly maneuver out of its way. Well, I don’t know if the other airplane was in contact with anyone, but we weren’t, and that fault is entirely ours.

Lesson four: get a VFR flight following. It is not a perfect solution, and you are still expected to see and avoid, but it is definitely an extra layer.

First in GA, and later in the airlines, I had other opportunities to see nearby traffic. For the small ones, remember: beautiful days are more likely to have mid-air collisions. Simply put, more people are flying out there, relying often on their eyes only. So, just because it is a perfect day to fly, do not let your guard down. If another traffic is stationary on your window, it is time to do something. And many formation flights are the start of a chain of events that lead to a midair: don’t be that guy. Train, communicate, take every minute in the air seriously, even more so if planning on flying deliberately close to someone else.

In the airlines, TCAS is king: here and there you will have some advisories, but be ready for the resolution maneuver. It is not that complicated and we do it every six months in the simulator. If you can skip all the fuzz watching for traffic around and being gentle on your climb and descent rates, it’s much better. Most of the “at or below” and “at or above” restrictions on the chart have to do with converging traffic, so keep an eye on that.

The sky is huge, but we are fast enough to shrink it beyond the acceptable amount.

Latest posts by Enderson Rafael (see all)
52 replies
  1. Roca
    Roca says:

    I love the availability of traffic in my cockpit with ADS-B, even as I lament the loss of privacy as a result. So I understand why many pilots of older airplanes and experimentals don’t want to install it. However, why any airplane would go without a radio, even a handheld one, in our busy airspace is still baffling. Too many folks who thinks rules don’t apply to them are still buzzing into patterns with improper entry techniques, and without a radio make it more difficult for the rest of us to avoid them. Most recently, an aircraft appeared below me on the base leg flying into a popular untowered field. Thankfully I was high and he was low, but it could have been disastrous.

    Reply
    • Enderson Santos
      Enderson Santos says:

      As they say, “information is power”. And the power to avoid a midair is a great one to have! The weekend warriors or any sort of people who operate like them is a real threat, worldwide. Some people are actually shy of speaking in the radio… without realizing how dangerous that may become. Thank you for the insight, Roca.

      Reply
  2. Gonçalo
    Gonçalo says:

    Great article, makes us all remember that the ‘big sky’ theory is really flawed. I agree that we should always make good use of all available technology in avoiding other traffic.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Starting from the transponder ON, as we have seen operating the 737 into uncontrolled fields… I wish the birds where the only non-squawk traffic in some of the airspaces we fly to. Cheers, my friend!

      Reply
        • Enderson Rafael
          Enderson Rafael says:

          Even bigger airplanes than a 737 eventually operate in uncontrolled fields. It is not that rare. Toowoomba, in Australia, gets regular flights from 747Fs, for example.

          Reply
    • George Dyer
      George Dyer says:

      I live in “Big Sky” country, Montana, but in the summer flying months, it can seem like “Small Sky” country.

      Reply
      • Enderson Rafael
        Enderson Rafael says:

        The speed has the power to shrink it! It is amazing how fast and often we see other traffics in some airspaces. And I wonder how many times we did not even see it… cheers!

        Reply
  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    Great points to consider! Thanks for sharing.

    Within a week of gaining the capability to display ADS-B traffic, it saved me and my family from a midair. We were in the home traffic pattern on downwind. There was another aircraft loitering a couple of thousand feet above the traffic pattern with unknown intentions (no radio calls were being made). The aircraft was above and behind us when I noticed its avatar on my iPad plummeting rapidly to pattern altitude. I made a steep right turn out of the pattern as the other aircraft leveled right where we my airplane would have been had I not taken evasive action. Without ADS-B traffic, we would have never known it was there because there was no possible physical contortion that would have allowed me to visually pick up that traffic from above and behind my Cherokee.

    I think of ADS-B traffic displays exactly like the mirrors on my car. I’m not going to stare at it constantly, but keeping it in my scan reduces the blind spots.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Chris, I listed on this article the times I realized how close I was to a midair. But I wonder how many times I was close too, but without knowing – in which, some may say, ignorance is a blessing. Like the joke about turning the radar ON, not liking what you see, and turning it OFF again. ADS-B for the small aircraft will make a huge difference just like TCAS did for bigger airplanes. Once again, operating safely is paramount, and the whole situation may have been avoided if the other traffic was doing so. Unfortunately, not everybody is ready to live in society – or to fly in one. I hope- and we always work – to make people more aware of their role in flight safety, but either on violations or errors, the more layers of protection we have, the better. And being able to see other traffics electronically, is certainly a great asset! Cheers!

      Reply
  4. Jorge Gonzalez
    Jorge Gonzalez says:

    Hi, just a PSA. We, ultralight or slow moving tube and fabrics are bottom dwellers. We stay at 1500 to 2000 msl. Mostly these planes do not have transponders or ads b. Ive seen diamond stars and Cirruses flying fast at these low altitudes. One in particular convinced me to get ads b because he got so close to me. Thanks

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Jorge, as you know, it is common in some countries too, to have airplanes even without radio in great numbers in busy countryside airfields. This becomes also a problem to the airlines, since we sometimes operate into these airspaces too, at much higher speeds. I think the way is: just because it is legal to fly without transponder and radio, it doesn’t mean it is clever to do so. Cheers!

      Reply
  5. Brett West
    Brett West says:

    Great article, and the second “near miss” seemed terrifyingly close. But isn’t it a “near hit” rather than a “near miss.” I know everyone uses “near miss.”

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      It was! As much as I love high wings, this visibility issue is a serious one. Thank you, Brett! And thanks, Doug, for the insight on the expression we use to define these events. A near hit would be if you were aiming at hitting. Since you weren’t, than a near miss may make more sense, as per my understanding of it.

      Reply
  6. Mike
    Mike says:

    “Lesson three: ADS-B is an amazing tool, and we might get some improvement in the number of mid-airs with its introduction.”

    I hope it is true, but some pilots may get lazy. I fear some will rely solely on ADS-B from first slacking off and eventually stop using eyes (along with thinking and common sense regarding locations and potential traffic) as the primary lookout for other aircraft. Some will forget about planes that will be invisible to the receiver.

    Technology is great and produced this “amazing tool.” We cannot overly depend on it. Get it. Use it. But remember what it is: an additional tool.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Totally agree, Mike! I fly Boeing, and maybe because of that, the fact that some Airbus models do TCAS Resolution maneuvers and Emergency Descents automatically give me chills. How much are we willing to delegate to a machine? This is also an extra layer of the subject you raised. Complacency is always there, waiting to kick in: if you let a student pilot to use moving maps from day one, it is unfair to expect his or her capability of navigating without it. Understanding that a “tool” is an “extra” to what you should be able to do on your own is of utmost importance.

      Reply
    • Earl Tuggle Sr.
      Earl Tuggle Sr. says:

      True. Any ‘tool’ that requires eyes INSIDE the cockpit detracts from the time proven See and Avoid concept.

      Reply
  7. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    A wise instructor told me to fly a weird altitude. 3275 or 4125 feet, etc. On my long distance flights. This has served me well. A few years ago I was doing just that in the 182 RG when a Piper went right over the top of me. I didn’t see it until the last minute, and I doubt he saw me at all. This could have been the classic low wing versus high wing had I not done my altitude maneuver.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      In the airlines, specially over poor controlled airspaces – like oceans or remote territories – we use a similar resource, the SLOP – strategic lateral offset procedure. Since nowadays the precision of GPS is such that you can track a route within less than 0.1 miles, it is interesting to fly 1 or 2 miles right of it, in case someone is in the wrong altitude (and it has happened, search for the GOL 1907 in 2006 at FL370 over the Amazon, hit by an Embraer Legacy being ferried to the US). Thank you for the insight, Karr!

      Reply
    • Robert Patlovany
      Robert Patlovany says:

      Karrpilot, that wise instructor was very wise, indeed! My 1997 article in Risk Analysis: An International Journal, proved analytically why pilots flying like “boats on lakes” at common stratified altitudes like Lake 3000′, Lake 4000′, Lake 5500′, or even Lake 1000′ AGL for the airport traffic pattern, are FAR MORE DANGEROUS than flight at purely random altitudes. In my January 31, 2018, webinar viewed by over 600 pilots recorded in the Experimental Aircraft Association archives, 89% voted their agreement that the hemispherical cruising altitude rules in FARs 91.159 and 91.179 are FAR MORE DANGEROUS than flight at purely random altitudes. Doctor Robert Machols called this the “navigation paradox” by which vertically sloppy pilots are rewarded with more safety than accurate pilots obeying these designed-to-kill FARs. Air Facts’ founder Leighton Collins wrote four articles calling out the FAA for their designed-to-kill FARs. He championed a 1928 Australian random cruising altitude alternative I call the altimeter-compass cruising altitude rule (ACCAR). Of my over 600 pilot webinar voters rejecting the FARs by a super-majority, another supermajority of 74 percent voted in favor of the 1928 Collins preference for ACCAR. The 1850s physics of the mean free path formula says that only two factors affect midair collision probability: (1) aircraft size, and (2) aircraft collision target number density. When you bank-and-yank to avoided a midair, you can double the effective aircraft size, by offering up a “sacrificial” wing tip for loss to another aircraft that would have missed if both stayed in a far safer wings-level pitch to a different altitude. When you obey the designed-to-kill FARs or airport traffic pattern altitudes, you dangerously maximize aircraft collision target number density at common, crowded altitudes while WASTING the vast majority of airspace altitudes in between better used under ACCAR for far more safely diluting and minimizing midair collision target number density.

      Reply
      • Neil Sidwell
        Neil Sidwell says:

        Hi Robert, It saddens me greatly that here in Australia at the end of 2021 we will move from being required to fly at quadrantal altitudes above 5000 AMSL to being required to fly them above 3000 AMSL – in order to be in line with the USA! How our governing body has the word “Safety” in its title (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) is beyond me. I was one of the 600 listening to your EAA webinar and am totally convinced that you are right. It is a shame that those very people who are employed to improve safety are apparently not required to do the scientific analysis that you did. Instead we are now going to move to a LESS safe environment.

        Reply
  8. Skip
    Skip says:

    Below 3,000 agl, where the hemispherical rule does not apply, I choose to fly at altitudes other than 1,500 or 2,500 msl. Those altitudes will be occupied by VFR pilots flying there by habit.

    Reply
    • Robert Patlovany
      Robert Patlovany says:

      Great idea, Skip! Remember that above 3000 AGL, you are permitted to deviate from the deadly hemispherical cruising altitude rule high traffic density altitudes by the error allowance in the FAA Practical Test Standards for IFR flight (+/- 100 ft) and VFR flight (+/- 200 ft). There is no sense in dying to obey an unsafe regulation with compulsive accuracy. Play the safe side of the navigation paradox to your benefit.

      Reply
  9. William Pinney
    William Pinney says:

    Many years ago I departed ICT in a Lear 35, runway heading to around 10000′. About a 2 minutes after takeoff I saw a speck ahead and to my right that rapidly grew in to a Beech Baron 58. It happened so fast (we at 250kts) I didn’t have time to move. The Baron was so close I saw the people in it and HEARD the engines! So yep, I am a big believer in TCAS and ADS!

    Reply
  10. Paul WINDEY
    Paul WINDEY says:

    Vfr pilots in uncontrolled zones between 1000-3000ft hardly use Ads-b. Therefore the SafeSky app was developed in Europe to use your cellphone/tablet to transmit your position and to receive traffic in your vicinity (other SafeSky users + ADS-B, Flarm, and others). Works fine! http://www.safesky.app. Only available in Europe at this moment ( free version -without advertising and a premium version24,99 euro/year).

    Reply
    • Earl Tuggle Sr.
      Earl Tuggle Sr. says:

      Looking at your phone or tablet instead of maintaining a proper traffic scan greatly contributes to the problem, not the solution.

      Reply
      • Steve Leary
        Steve Leary says:

        While I agree with you 100%, I saw nothing in Paul’s post that suggested he was looking at his phone instead of scanning outside for traffic. These safety aids should be used as a short stop to augment your outside scan, not as a substitute for it. Used this way, I believe they can enhance safety.

        Reply
  11. Ray Nickels
    Ray Nickels says:

    In three different states I have had the license plate “NEARMIS” in honor of my six no-kidding experiences (500 feet or less vertical and 200 feet or less horizontal separation). The ranged from newly-minted pilot stupid – violating a military restricted area and being buzzed, probably intentionally, by a T-38, to ATC vectoring a turboprop and a 727 to the same place at the same time. When TCAS was new it provided only a target with data. It did not provide a “resolution” command. Twice, I found myself attempting to avoid an aircraft that was claiming they were VFR to ATC when in fact they were IMC. I did not see them until the very last second. On one of those flights former Vice President Mondale was a passenger, so I’m pretty sure we would have made the news. The most frightening was the near head-on with a Challenger after departing Boston in a 727. In clear Skys we could see the target, but it was small and was not on TCAS. “Big airplane far away,” I thought. I continued to think this until it exploded past my window so close that I thought it was a Learjet (it was a Challenger, so think about that) and I could see the epaulets on the pilot’s light blue shirt. Turned out that the Challenger had departed shortly before we did, and had been given a turn back to head the other direction. ATC then forgot about them. Why? Because they had failed to turn on their transponder, which was also why they did not show up on our TCAS.

    ADS-B and TCAS are great, and work wonderfully, but eyes outside is still the last line of defense. After all, not everybody is always in the system, sometimes by choice and sometimes by mistake. Happy landings!

    Reply
    • Don W.
      Don W. says:

      Ray, You correctly refer to eyes outside as the “last line of defense” against mid-air collisions, and it is, but it is a pretty thin line as you and I have both experienced. With high closure rates, even a fairly large airplane goes from a dot to RIGHT HERE in just a few seconds. In any aircraft there are major areas of the sky that you cannot see from the cockpit, so now you are depending on the “other guy’s eyes” to see and avoid you! Heck, you can’t even rely on the other guy to not fly in IMC without filing IFR or talking to ATC. It’s a conundrum.

      I wonder how hard it would be to make a light portable battery powered ADS-B out so that even ultralights and gliders would show up on the traffic displays. Skydivers? Drones?

      Reply
  12. Craig Bixby
    Craig Bixby says:

    I saw this statement in editorial from another Aviation Website “Approaching the airport, however, the reverse is true. There’s little or no time for anything but eyes outside; not using ADS-B to find traffic you should acquire visually, because visually is how you’re going to avoid it.”

    Here are my thoughts to share. Under previous beliefs the above statement was true. BUT, if you review the NTSB report concerning a midair in Alaska (https://www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/mr20210420.aspx) and review the initial reports about the recent one near Denver – depending on “visually seeing traffic in order to avoid it” is suspect and on these occasions it didn’t work!! Plus, it may not work in many other cases.

    A Case in point was recently related to me. During a trip to an EAA breakfast a Tripacer was entering the pattern when the pilot noticed his ADSB was indicating an aircraft 200ft directly below him!!!! So, without the ADSB no one would have known the guy was there!! The pilot’s, response was to climb 200 feet above pattern altitude while making a 360 degree re-entry into the pattern downwind.

    SO, If some guy flies through his turn to Final, continues to the point he flies through the other guys Final or some guy comes into the traffic pattern 200 ft below pattern altitude and flies under another aircraft already in the pattern, no one would be expecting either to happen.

    So, Remember – SEE AND AVOID ONLY WORKS IF OTHER AIRCRAFT ARE WHERE YOU ARE EXPECTING THEM TO BE, BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE YOU PROBABLY ARE LOOKING FOR THEM

    The Bottom Line – extreme vigilance is needed, using all your resources available to find and maintain a safe distance from other aircraft and sadly that still may not be sufficient to prevent the next midair.

    Reply
    • Earl Tuggle Sr.
      Earl Tuggle Sr. says:

      See and avoid can only work if the occupants are actively looking for traffic. Distraction from onboard electronics, including ADS-B equipment, prevents proper traffic scans and contributes to potential conflicts.

      Reply
      • Craig
        Craig says:

        That may be all true thought paternity. But, You can be actively looking for traffic all day long. If it is NOT where you can see it, or is in a position blocked by your aircraft structure ya still ain’t going to see it

        Reply
        • Earl Tuggle St.
          Earl Tuggle St. says:

          Excellent point. That’s why it is so important to learn correct scan techniques, which include compensating for blind spots by head and aircraft movement.

          Reply
  13. Jim Koehn
    Jim Koehn says:

    My first experience with a near mid-air was at NAS Miramar (California); the departure was from 24R to join the 270 degree radial outbound until 15 miles, then VFR. I was in an A-4 at 350 knots and 1500’ (the required departure altitude) in hazy conditions. A small private aircraft was headed south on the same 1500’ and we missed by less that 150 feet. Ours was a well known and published departure that this other pilot either ignored or failed to maintain a safe altitude. VERY close and I don’t think that he ever saw me!

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Very well pointed out, Jim. Even more when high performance traffic is involved, those flying light aircraft should do their best to avoid those areas as much as they can. Most of the mid-airs happen from angles behind the overtaken airplane. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  14. Earl Tuggle Sr.
    Earl Tuggle Sr. says:

    A HUGE problem today is the proliferation of electronic devices in the cockpit contributing to ‘head down and locked’ situations. Plus, vision blocking camera and tablet mounts attached to windows and windshields obscuring outside views and traffic scans.

    Reply
  15. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    While getting my annual instrument check in an A-10 (the check pilot was flying his A-10 in a ‘chase’ position) I was letting down into Charleston, AFB in South Carolina for some instrument approaches. I was dutifully trying to ‘play’ the game and actually fly the airplane using just the instruments, knowing I would soon be on the gauges when we went into the soup. Approach advised there was civilian VFR traffic at our 12 o’clock climbing out of a civil field in Charleston (didn’t say which one) on a path directly opposite ours, which I acknowledged. With my head down as we got ready to go into the weather, something caught my attention off the nose of my airplane. It was a glint of sunshine off the canopy of the civilian twin that had just emerged from the clouds and he was coming directly at me! I yelled into the mic ‘Hog Flight, pull up! Pull up, NOW!” The chase pilot was already close to me in preparation for us going into the weather, but he followed my lead as I yanked the stick back. When we debriefed the flight, he related how he only saw a flash of a low-wing airplane passing directly below me. We reported the near mid-air and never heard anything about it, but the event still sticks with me some 42 years later.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Exactly my feeling gathering my own near misses, Dale: thousands of hours of boredom, pointed here and there by unforgettable seconds of adrenaline. They just stay there, that sight like a photograph, resisting oblivion.

      Reply
  16. RC Thompson
    RC Thompson says:

    I had an instructor suggest that he thought it was safer to be 50 to 75 feet above or below assigned flight altitude. I did it intentionally only once, enroute IFR to AOPA gathering at Palm Springs years ago in my relatively slow Cherokee 6-300, for about 20 minutes, at 7930 MSA. During that time a Bonanza overtook us, dead on the same course about 70 feet above me, causing a shadow in the glareshield (the sky was severe clear).
    I called ATC and chewed them out, and got a different voice response “we’re not showing any traffic in your area”. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Earl Tuggle St.
      Earl Tuggle St. says:

      Count your blessings. And never, ever rely 100% on ATC. They are human and make mistakes just like we do. But admit them a whole lot less.

      Reply
    • Robert Patlovany
      Robert Patlovany says:

      RC Thompson’s instructor’s advice and Thompson’s resulting survival validates once again the navigation paradox that any kind of cruising flight at accurate discrete layered altitudes is far more dangerous than cruising at randomized altitudes. RC Thompson’s 70 foot vertical error obviously saved his life. Flying at exact layered altitudes is for nobody’s benefit except ATC sorting traffic for their convenience–not for the safety of pilots. Pilots using discrete layered altitudes are flying like boats on lakes–slamming into each other at lake-like common altitudes–while utterly wasting the vast volumes of “illegal” cruising airspace between “legal” altitudes. An extremely well documented case study is by Dr. H. Paul Shuch from his January 30, 2016, accident webinar (http://avsport.org/webinars/videos/nmac.mp4) presented May 11, 2016, for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Shuch learned “by accident” that exactly obeying FAR 91.159 at a slightly westerly altitude flying mostly north earned him a head-on accident with a slightly westerly threat flying mostly south. No safety improvement can ever come from accurately obeying FARs 91.159 or 91.179, as they are both designed to kill pilots in direct proportion to the accuracy of their obedience. My sensitivity study proving this danger is in Figures 1 and 2 of my Risk Analysis article (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1539-6924.1997.tb00862.x). In my January 31, 2018, EAA webinar explaining what Dr. Shuch did wrong in 2016, and why (https://www.eaa.org/videos/5724032078001), I recommended that pilots above 3000′ AGL concerned with their FAR obedience fly a little above the hemispherical cruising altitudes if they were cruising right of 90 and 270 headings, while flying a little bit below these altitudes if they are flying left of 90 and 270 headings.

      Reply
  17. Wayne Eleazer
    Wayne Eleazer says:

    One day I was headed home from our local GA airport and had to stop while a whole mess of kids and bikes crossed the road. Then I heard a roar and looked up to see Jan Jones, a professional acro pilot, headed into the pattern on a 45 degree entry. And directly in front of her was a Cessna 150 making a Left turn onto downwind. There was no doubt there was going to be a mid-air, but as I started to yell (fat lot of good that would have done) Jan saw the Cessna and pulled a maneuver that was sort of like a Spit-S. Fortunately both she and her airplane were capable of doing that at only 1000 ft AGL. I then realized the importance of joining the pattern at Mid-Field on downwind, not at the point where most people are turning from crosswind to downwind.

    My own close call came several years later when I was at about 1200 ft AGL and making a 45 degree entry when I saw a RV-6 bombing right along at what the pilot no doubt thought was a perfectly safe altitude right over the Indian River. When the FAA came out with that Advisory Circular to not announce that you are in a 45 degree entry until you are at pattern altitude, not descending to it, I realized what that could be important. I have seen twins announce they are on a 45 degree entry while in a 45 degree dive. On the other other hand, the RV-6 pilot was nuts to think he was perfectly safe because he was not directly over an airport and only maybe 200 ft above the pattern altitude.

    Reply
  18. Steve Leary
    Steve Leary says:

    It has been three years since I started my training for my sport pilot’s license which I was granted in September of 2020. In that time, I have been involved in three near-misses, (I live in the heavily traveled airspace of San Diego, CA).. These were in a Champ with my instructor (1 event), and in my low-and-slow Rans, single-place S-4. In the first of these I was in a practice area in the Rans, had announced my presence and what I was doing, did clearing turns and was doing practice stalls to gather information on the S-4’s stall characteristics. After completing a stall, I turned to a south-easterly heading at exactly 3,500 feet. After maybe ten or fifteen minutes on that heading, I saw a Cessna 172/182 type flying almost the reciprocal heading to mine and maybe four or five feet below me. He was just to the left of my center-line, and he was CLOSE, maybe 150 feet away, moving slightly from my right to left. I initiated a break, right and up immediately, but he passed me before my aircraft even twitched. We missed each other by 10 feet or less! I could see directly into his cockpit through what, at that moment looked like a huge windscreen. I saw no faces. Nor did the aircraft, make any attempt to maneuver. It just went just boring through the sky as if no one at all was aboard. I am sure they never even saw me, though I would have completely filled their wind-screen and spilled out on all sides.
    And that wasn’t even the closest close call I had in these three years. One other aircraft, I picked up at maybe a quarter, to a half-mile, in bright sunshine while flying alone in my Rans. I initiated a right, climbing, turn away, and he passed, maybe 20 feet below and 60 feet left. The aircraft was a tandem, open cockpit design, that looked very much like a vintage, Ryan PT-22. Both occupants had their heads down, looking at something inside their respective cockpits. Again, there was no indication that either occupant saw me.
    And finally the third, and most frightening, of these close encounters, involved a high-wing Cessna type aircraft, and occurred on a cross country with my instructor in a Champ. My instructor, whom I think, was using my Stratus, ADS-B-in link on his cell phone, called the aircraft out, when he was still somewhat distant. But it was a very hazy day as we flew over scrub brush in a mountainous area of the county, and I was unable to acquire him visually. So, after a short interval, I informed my instructor of that fact. He apparently looked, saw the aircraft, and initiated an immediate left turn away. And then I saw it completely fill the left side of my windscreen. And I realized as it passed, that the only reason we did not hit each other was because the right wing of the Champ was up at about 40 degrees by that time, and that was just enough, to allow the left wing of the Cessna to pass, undisturbed below it to our right. Up to that point, none of these encounters had frightened me. But that last one, absolutely scared the stuffing right out of me. We were so close, we could have passed the Coronavirus to each other. And again, there was no evidence the other aircraft ever saw us.
    That last fact started me to think that I needed to install ADS-B out in my little Rans. That’s because, in all of these encounters, except maybe that with the Ryan PT-22 type, the other aircraft undoubtedly had ADS-B in and out, and I had only in, since neither the Champ nor my Rans had an engine-driven electrical system. I began to wonder if the reason they didn’t see me was because they were busy looking at their display rather than out their windows. And since I did not have ADS-B out, I never showed up on their displays.
    And so I have since purchased an ADS-B out system for my little Rans. Which I only use for quick looks following my thorough out-the-windows scan, just to be sure I haven’t missed anything.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      The power of ADSB of saving lives is certain, Steve. I would totally prefer to have it. In the airlines TCAS has been over for so long that we tend to forget how effective it is. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  19. Suresh Kumar Bista
    Suresh Kumar Bista says:

    Hello Enderson,
    That was great story. When I was learning to fly in Victoria BC, Canada, my instructor told me that airports are like beehives. Bees come out and bees go in. So we have to watch out for the bees that are going in those coming out. This was many years before Mode S transponders came into operations. ‘Be seen’ was an idea put to us during training.
    Problems arise you are flying in fantastic VFR conditions and complacency sets in. You feel you are the only guy up there and own the sky. Well, you have to look around and believe it or not, some luck has to be with you too.
    Happy flying.

    Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Well noted, Suresh! Everybody is waiting for the same wx to fly. Is like ordering pizza friday night hehe

      Reply
    • Enderson Rafael
      Enderson Rafael says:

      Thanx, Humberto! It is amazing how many similar stories this article’s comments are revealing!

      Reply

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