Ed Rombauer's Safety Corner

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE--THAT IS THE PROBLEM.

            OK, I know thatís not what Shakespeare wrote but the bard never had to look for flying objects several thousand feet in the air.  We are talking about seeing and avoiding other aircraft on a very clear, sunny day, as well as on a not-so-nice cloudy day. In a controlled test of seeing other aircraft in clear VFR conditions, pilots saw only 56 per cent of the traffic in their vicinity, which means that 44 per cent were never seen.  Now in my estimation, near 50-50 odds on missing other aircraft is not a ďgood thingĒ.  The reason that aircraft are not falling out of the sky all around us, of course, is that the airspace that we fly in is very large and we can go for a long time not looking out of the windscreen before running into another aircraft.  However, if you donít look outside you will never know when the long time becomes a short time and you become another statistic.  For those who like statistics, about 2 per cent of the yearly aircraft accidents involve mid-air collisions. 

            Since we know that we are not going to see all the traffic all the time the trick is to know when and where to look.  So I might suggest that you be especially vigilant in areas where there are a lot of aircraft.  Since airplanes tend to hang out around airports, this is also the place where the most mid-airs occur.  Looking for other aircraft starts before take off where the pilot (and passengers) should scan not only the approach end of the runway for landing aircraft but the departure end as well.  Also, check whether this is an intersecting runway (itís never good to meet a fellow aviator at the intersection).  After departing look up, thatís were that fellow will be on his go-around because he was too fast and you were slow.  When returning and you are within five miles of the airport (especially uncontrolled) get every eyeball in the airplane looking for traffic.  Use your radio, better too many calls than not enough; besides, more radio calls might make Joe Weakender think that the entire Warbird squadron is coming in to land and push him to get out of the way.  Also, I like to use my landing lights when in the traffic pattern. 

            Some of the tools for collision avoidance were learned years ago and have slowly melted away, such as sector scanning, S turns, and proper radio procedure.  Two things to avoid in VFR flying are fixation and complacency.  While you are staring at your instruments, adjusting your engine, things are happening outside and while you sit there daydreaming about the good life, the three dimensional world around you is constantly changing, hopefully not for the worse.  None of this is brain surgery; it just requires a little thought and practice.  After a winter of less flying than weíd like itís easy to concentrate on the things inside but itís the things outside that will get you. 

            Watch out for that bug on your windshield, it may be my airplane!

            Ed. Rombauer, Safety Office