See and Avoid

The best way to scan for nearby traffic.

Piper Aircraft

Piper Aircraft

Piper Aircraft

These days, with all kinds of traffic avoidance systems available for airplanes, big and small, there is a lot of help for us pilots to find targets in the sky. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't look outside. "See and avoid" is required by FAR 91.113 and there is no guarantee that all airplanes around you will show up on your liquid crystal display. As we all know, transponders are only required in certain airspace and, if an airplane near you doesn't have one, your traffic alert system won't pick it up.

The AirVenture Notam instructs VFR pilots to put their transponders on standby while flying in the area. For this reason, the see-and-avoid concept is particularly applicable for the thousands of pilots flying their airplanes into Wittman Regional Airport (OSH) and other surrounding airports this week to attend the 2012 version of EAA’s AirVenture. From Piper Cubs to business jets, the range of airplanes is impressive, so it’s even more important to be on the lookout, since faster airplanes will come up on you in a hurry. So keep those eyes open wide.

Another directive from the Notam is to keep the lights on within 30 nautical miles of OSH. This is a recommendation that is worth following even when you’re not flying in congested airspace. It’s much easier to see an airplane with the lights on than one without. Light bulbs are cheap compared with mid-air collisions.

And to give yourself the best chance to find the traffic targets, as long as you’re not in the clouds, it’s a good idea to spend a lot more time looking outside than gazing at the instrument panel. Don’t just scan the area in front of you like a beacon. Stop a few seconds to ensure your eyes have time to focus. Then shift your gaze slightly and focus again.

Use the same technique if a controller alerts you of traffic nearby. Scan the area around the targeted direction (i.e. 10 o’clock, two o’clock) in short intervals rather than focusing only on one spot like a laser beam. Airplanes are always moving, so while the target may have been at nine o’clock when the controller called, chances are it is at eight or 10 o’clock by the time you identify it.

As you get closer to the airport, you can expect the traffic congestion to increase. Make sure you lift or dip the wing (depending on whether you’re flying a high- or low wing airplane) before you make turns to downwind, base or final. Make each turn as close to 90 degrees as possible and level the wings after each turn to give yourself a better chance of seeing traffic targets that may not have self announced on the CTAF or been pointed out to you by the control tower. Make it a habit to call out “final is clear” to yourself as you turn your attention away from the runway and toward the extended final while on base to make sure you don’t forget to look. It’s unlikely that an airplane will be there, but the one time there is one you will be glad you paid extra attention.