FAAST Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team
All is calm? All is WHITE!
Recently I hitched a ride to Rochester International from Stanton Airfield to retrieve an aircraft. When my ride arrived, we watched his landing and commented that his white strobe lights weren't on. At half a mile from our viewpoint we finally saw them blinking.
A cold overcast blanketed the Earth at 6000 AGL. The flight to RST was noneventful as we enjoyed the dense air and added performance in the Cessna 172.
We received instruction to report the field in sight at 10 miles out. GPS says 12 o'clock and 10 miles, then 6, then 4. We were both searching diligently for the white hangars in the white snow against the white sky and the white snow covered runway in our white airplane. We spotted the field at 3 miles and received a straight in approach.
Upon my solo departure, I received a traffic advisory, helicopter, 3 miles, same altitude. I looked down and counted the section lines, then started scanning the area while rocking my wings. No joy so a climb was initiated and reported to make way for the arrival. I never spotted him.
There are a few things we pilots can do to help locate one another near an airfield. Monitor CTAF within 10 miles of any airfield you are passing and pay attention to the traffic flow.
Light up your aircraft. Stay well above the pattern altitude. Consider a tablet based electronic flight bag with ADSB IN and use it regularly.
At uncontrolled fields, it's important to use the recommended standard pattern departures and entries described in the AIM, Chapter 4-3-3. This will help other pilots predict and avoid the area you are operating in. There are only TWO ways to exit the traffic pattern on departure. Straight out or a 45 degree turn in the direction of the traffic pattern while climbing to pattern altitude before turning on course. Standard turns are always to the left, unless noted by an RP in the information block for the airfield on your current chart.
The recommended entry is 45 degrees to the midfield downwind. Be at pattern altitude before turning onto the 45degree course inbound. Using these standards, departures and arrivals should have plenty of separation and opportunities to see one another.
As always, please visit faasafety.gov regularly and book an instruction flight to keep your Wings Proficiency current.