A Prime Directive for Collision Avoidance – Look

Pilots of high wing airplanes should exercise caution when holding short the runway before take-off. In this photo an airplane on short final is clearly visible. Look closely and you can see the pilot holding short has angled the airplane towards the approach end of the runway. If the airplane was aligned with the taxi-way, the high wing position would completely screen sight of the approaching aircraft.
Pilots of high wing airplanes should exercise caution when holding short the runway before take-off. In this photo an airplane on short final is clearly visible. Look closely and you can see the pilot holding short has angled the airplane towards the approach end of the runway. If the airplane was aligned with the taxi-way, the high wing position would completely screen sight of the approaching aircraft.
Since the time long ago when more than one airplane has been in the air at the same time, a prime directive to all pilots has been “see and avoid”. Pilots know that, so why do they continue to fly into each other?

The possibility of mid-air collision is a clear and present threat. In this month’s comment and Featured Video I discuss five common situations when pilots fly blind. Do any of these examples ring a note of familiarity?

Failing to look for traffic is a pilot bad habit that I routinely see in several situations.  A common example is failing to look before turning while maneuvering. I think that mistake is common because the pilot is frequently focused on performing the maneuver, and when distracted we fly like we train. If your habit is to look, you will look even when distracted.

Another very common habit is what I call a bobble head. Pilots look left, right and all around in an effort to clear traffic, yet they see nothing. We all learned in pilot school that too see, we must allow eyes to focus. That takes more time than a rapid glance affords.

Among pilots of high wing aircraft, holding short the runway can be problematic. Many pilots position the airplane pointing straight ahead perpendicular to the runway. The high wing blocks a clear view of final. Perhaps a better habit is to position the airplane with the nose angled towards the approach end of the runway (see photo).

A situation most bewildering to understand is a pilot who announces on the radio that he will take position and hold at an uncontrolled airport. There he sits on the runway with his back to traffic, blind and apparently oblivious to the aircraft in the traffic pattern. Maybe it is just me, but at uncontrolled airports, I like to stay clear of an active runway until I am ready and rolling for take-off and departure.

Relative to collision avoidance, the single most import habit I advocate is the belly check in the landing pattern. When established on base:

  • level the wings,
  • look in turn to clear the runway,
  • then look out turn to clear final.

Fly high, have fun and look where you are going. – Jim Alsip