Mid Air

Most Mid air collisions frequently occur on a clear day near an airport.. Many on final approach. One was at the airport to which I frequently visited. This particular accident involved a situation where visibility was impeded due to the nature of the aircraft. One was a high wing Cessna  that had vertical blind spots. Low wing aircraft, like Pipers, also have a few areas of blocked visibility when looking down. Unfortunately, when both types are in the air in close proximity, it’s possible neither can see each other if on the same final approach especially when a Piper is behind and above. This resulted in two fatalities, one of whom was a Chicago area celebrity. (Bob Collins mid air collision at Waukegan) This was at a towered airport where sequencing and separation were provided. That’s why you need to build a 3D mental picture of what’s going before you get there by listening to the radio. Situation Awareness. Without it you will eventually have problems, especially at smaller non towered airports  where it’s not required to use radio communications to broadcast position. Some pilots even forget or transmissions can be blocked. It’s crucial to scan the area for relative motion. Check base and final in the pattern.

Another high wing / low wing accident ended better. This Piper Cadet and Cessna 152 both were on final. High wing mid airThe piper pilot couldn’t understand why the plane no longer responded to his control inputs. The Cessna flight instructor, below,  realized that the Piper had landed on top of him and that he was now flying for two. Luck and skill prevented a disaster. Pilots walked away unharmed and both planes were repaired and flew again.

Strangely at some non towered airports, some pilots completely ignore wind direction which define which runway or direction in which to land. Planes should land into the wind to minimize crosswind and groundspeed, else the ride become more lively than desired. You can learn about wind direction and intensity by listening to the local broadcast on AWOS (Automatic weather observation station) . It’s also observable by looking at the windsock below. These cues, along with radio calls will determine which runway is active when flying to smaller airports. If I’m flying visual flight rules, I make it a habit to fly a full pattern at untowered fields. It allows both a stabilized approach and avoid surprises as you make and listen to position call outs.   

Still, some  will choose to land without thinking it through.

One time, I had just touched down when I heard someone calling out landing final in the opposite direction.  This guy was landing downwind and never gave a hint as to his location. I pulled as quickly as possible onto an intersecting taxiway. Shortly thereafter, a Cirrus SR20 whizzed by.  We missed meeting head on by five seconds. It wasn’t my only close encounter but it was certainly the most avoidable.

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2 responses to “Mid Air

  1. Recently had an accident quite like this at Bankstown in Australia. C152 and Liberty XL2, high wing and low wing. They both approached the same standard inbound point (at large GA airports there are standard inbound and outbound routes.) They both made their inbound call at the same time, tramping over each others transmission. Unfortunately the Liberty’s prop sliced off the Cessnas tail, which spun in killing both on board. The Liberty, with an examiner and student pilot on his private pilot checkride managed to land safely.

    Sadly, sometimes luck plays a role in this game – good and bad.

    • You’re right about luck playing a role. We, as pilots, can improve our odds by training, proficiency, good judgement and minimizing risks (such as not flying in an icestorm) but there is nothing we can do to prevent other pilots from interfering with our plans. A little like motorcycle driving. For all their negative press, bikes are “safer” if you don’t have other drivers on the road.

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