See and Avoid

One of the key directives in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) 91.113 is the responsibility to” See and Avoid”. Hard to do when closure rates are measured in a few seconds.

When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.

See-and-avoid involves a number of steps, all of which are inherently prone to error. First, the pilot must be looking outside the aircraft, which statistically is less with new glass cockpits. Second, pilots must search the visual field and detect objects of interest, most likely with their peripheral vision. Next, the object must be looked at directly so it can be identified as an aircraft. If the aircraft is identified as a collision threat, the pilot must decide what evasive action to take. Sometimes it’s impossible to be fast enough.

The mood couldn’t have been more relaxed aboard an executive jet carrying three Incline residents as it began its descent towards Reno-Tahoe International Airport Monday afternoon.Mike Chipman was dozing while his wife, Evy, read a book. Steve DiZio was also reading and occasionally looked-up to check the flight’s progress on a GPS read-out.

Then, they heard what sounded like an explosion coming from the cockpit. The cabin depressurized and the plane veered to the right before going into a steep dive.  “The pilot had just put on the seat belt sign, and a few minutes afterwards there was this explosion …a really loud bang or crash from the cockpit,” recalled DiZio, a retired high-tech start-up manager.

Traveling from the Carlsbad Airport in San Diego , the Hawker 800XP jet struck a glider in a mid-air collision at 16,000 feet over the Pine Nut Mountains southeast of Carson City .The accident, which took place at about 3:10 pm., destroyed the jet’s nose cone and the glider whose pilot, Japanese citizen and 30-year glider veteran, Akihiro Hirao, parachuted safely back to earth.

The pilot quickly brought the jet back under control as the three startled passengers secured their oxygen mask. After deducing that the damage to the starboard wing, part of which had caved-in and was leaking fuel vapor, was too extensive to have been caused by a bird, and that they would all be dead if they had struck another conventional airplane, passenger Mike Chipman, a part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, surmised the truth.

Though the passengers didn’t know it at the time, the starboard engine had failed. Moreover, part of the glider had ripped its way through the plane’s nose and into the instrument dash, causing it to burst into the pilot’s face and lap.  Despite a gash to her chin, pilot Annette Saunders remained in control throughout the remainder of the flight, even after a two-foot piece of the nose structure had bent its way in front of the cockpit window.After passing the Carson City Airport , the pilot swung the plane around to bring it in for an emergency landing. As they leveled-out, the co-pilot turned and yelled over the noise that they had lost control of their landing gear and would skid to a halt on the aircraft’s belly.

“The landing was as smooth as you could imagine, not even a bump,” DiZio said. “We stayed on the runway right up to the end, so she (the pilot) must have had that just perfectly lined-up even with the crosswinds.”

click photos for larger image

Great poise and skill by the pilot. Of course it might not have happened if the glider pilot had turned on his transponder.

Another avoidable brush with disaster. In the last 20 years 60 mid air collisions or “near miss” incidents have occurred between air carriers/ corporate traffic and gliders. While I’m not a proponent for more regulation, I think the FAA ought to make  transponders required equipment for any aircraft that operate at altitudes frequented by jets. Sometimes common sense isn’t. 

H/T to Rob for the story

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5 responses to “See and Avoid

  1. virgil xenophon

    Couldn’t agree more about the glider/sailplane transponder bit, Wilco. And that gal of a pilot seems to have been one cool customer.

    PS: File this under the dumb as rocks cat.

    We had a guy in our Squadeon in the UK who was both the European sailplane soaring and World Champion for 1969. He wore his USAF Flt jacket when doing so–the USAF got a million dollars of free pub and great pictures with the AF insignia plastered all over Europe’s newspapers and TV as an advertisement for the skill of it’s pilots, etc., right? But NOoooo, the “big kids’ gave him a formal reprimand for being “out of uniform” and forbade him to wear it again. Typical.

    • Regrettably, someone looked at the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the regulation. That was pretty dumb.
      As relates to sailplane flying: It is fun and you’ll learn more about coordinated flight and rudder control faster than in many hours of powered flight. Good story about it also in this months “AOPA magazine”. An ex F-16 pilot who lost sight of the fact that his glider didn’t quite have the reserve power of hos old jet.

  2. virgil xenophon

    PPS: To add insult to injury, this guy was a Capt. just ending his first tour (he’d flown sailplanes all his life) who had been kept in the back-seat of an F-4 (In the early days we had 2 pilots in the F-4–a source of great dissatisfaction to everyone concerned. The Guy-in-the-Back GIB-, wanted his own airplane to fly, and the front-seater all too often felt the back-seater was useless and just along for the ride.) by a command too dumb to give a pilot of his demonstrated skills and abilities a shot at the front seat as aircraft commander (AC) simply because he hadn’t served a tour in Vietnam yet and those upgrades went first to back-seaters returning from SEA. As a result he put in his papers in disgust and the AF lost one hell of a pilot.

    • I’d read about the two pilot dilemma in Phantom’s and I think it was unique to the Air Force, not the Navy correct? Probably was one of the things they fixed right after they found out that it would be good idea to have a gun on the plane.

  3. virgil xenophon

    Yes, the Navy RIO (Radar Intercept Officer–the F-4 was originally designed to be an earlier interceptor version of the F-14) didn’t even have a stick back there! I guess the Af at first thought it would be a good way to justify more pilots to Congress (can’t have enough of them, eh?) But seriously, I think they were looking ahead to the very real problem (which HAS materialized) of what does one do with very high ranking Navigators once they get too senior to fly. Under the AF rules at that time there were a whole slew of key command positions they could not fill–from Wing Commander on down to Flt commander and everything in between. All had to be rated pilots. And when the AF bowed to the pressures of extreme pilot dissatisfaction by putting Navs in the back seat this problem materialized as advertised. At first the AF tried to shift them to a whole slew of non-rated specialties–but their senior rank meant that they usually became Supply Squadron Commanders, Chief of Wing Intelligence, etc., which decapitated the career paths of the non-rated specialists in those areas. As a result, a lot of the sharpest non-rated people in those non-rated fields elected to get out as career advancement was thereby stunted, leaving only second-raters behind who didn’t think they could make it on the outside.

    (A classic example was Lt. Gen. Talbott’s own son who left as a Maj. in logistics exactly because of this fact for a position with Mars candies in Chicago)

    The AF’s answer was to “resolve” the problem by opening up all but the highest command positions to Navs on the flying side of the house, but they still to this day haven’t solved the problem of displacement of non-rated people by Navs in non-rated slots.

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