Situational Awareness

Posted September 2013

My home drome is located in a valley about two miles wide; the valley sides stick up about 500 feet over the floor.  The valley and the runway run north-south, and the runway is offset to the east so the hills on that side are a half-mile away.  I typically turn away to the East after takeoff, maintaining a climb to get me to 1000 AGL soon after passing over the ridge line on the east (1500 MSL).

Now that the geometry is (mostly) out of the way, I wanted to mention something that happened a couple of weeks back.  I took off headed North, turning East once I gained 500 feet (equal to the height of the ridge) with the anticipation of gaining another 500 by the time I reached it.

But as I was climbing East, I noticed a plane about 3/4 of a mile in front of me.  He was flying away, heading (apparently) towards another airport located about five miles off.  The 45-entry for that airport is a lake located midway between the two airports (OK, I promise, the geometry is done).

Well enough, I thought.  I could see the plane was really booking, and it was headed away from me.

Or....was it?  I realized it was in a broad right-hand turn.  It was turning back.  Towards me?  Only thing I could think of was conflicting traffic for the 45 entry to that other airport, and the guy was doing a 360 for spacing.

Without realizing that his circle would take him close to MY airport, in the usual east-bound departure area.

He was still a bit above me, but my climb was bringing me to his altitude (pattern altitude for that other airport).  He kept coming around, coming around.  Going to go behind me?  No, he's still turning.

I realized his turn radius would take him right to me.

I was almost to his altitude, but I throttled back and leveled out.  He was on my right, so I had to yield to him.  In any case, I was still slightly below him, on towards his right side, probably not even been visible (blocked by his forward fuselage).  I throttled back a bit more, turned into him, and dropped.

I kept my eyes on him as he went right overhead, about 300 feet up. Bellanca Viking.  He kept turning back towards the other airport, and I skedaddled South.

Thinking about it afterward, it kind of illustrated the extremes of situational awareness.  The guy apparently didn't consider the potential for conflicting traffic coming from another nearby airport, which would be (and was!) right in an obvious blind spot.  Plus, he was REALLY hauling...I'd guess 175 MPH or so.  High traffic area; not really a good idea.

I take no situational awareness credit for spotting him... dark airplane, fairly close, moving fast above a light horizon.

What I DO credit is the Fly Baby's open-cockpit, low-wing, sitting-on-the-center design.  It let me keep eyes on the guy, and let me maintain contact even while maneuvering.  Yes, it blocks vision downward...but with the wing several feet below the eyeline, it blocks it far less than a high wing would.  Sitting in the center doesn't allow the fuselage to block to any side.

I like this plane.  I think I'll keep flying it. :-)

Ron Wanttaja

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