Mid air incidents: a recent trend

From the Accident Review Committee

Welcome to the second edition of the USHPA Accident Review Committee Outreach for 2017. Our first outreach was very well-received, with a lot of great feedback. We have a new round of information for you and we hope that you find it to be useful.

Several mid air incidents have occurred with some unusual and remarkable commonalities. There have been incidents of mid airs when only a few people were flying. There have been some incidents where both parties were actually quite familiar with one another (friends, family, or familiar outside of flying).

We’d like to remind all pilots that it is easy to become complacent when the site is not crowded (or less crowded than usual). It is also worth noting that there is a certain strange attraction between pilots who are friends, or who are learning together. Various situations present an increased risk of mid air contact: husband and wife are flying together, parent and child are both aloft, a student shares the air with their instructor (especially for the first time), or any situation involving cameras.

Avoiding mid air incidents

In an effort to avoid any of these pitfalls, when you are flying with friends, family, or your instructor/student you might want to make extra effort to stay in separate airspace. We remind pilots to take care when it is not crowded, as well as when it is crowded. There is also an added risk for pilots who are flying with cameras, trying to get that extra special shot. Keeping an eye out for a photo opportunity could be distracting, and looking through a viewfinder can reduce one's overall situational awareness.

Formation flying should be avoided in general. If it is contemplated, then it should theoretically be done by advanced pilots in very favorable conditions with prior communication, planning, and explicit consent by both parties. Pilots should always make sure that all parties can fly away from the formation easily and safely if they become uncomfortable at any point. No other pilots in the air should be in harm’s way as a result of a few pilots wanting to fly close to each other.

Assessing and mitigating the risk

Finally, we remind pilots to ask themselves: is the risk of flying with a lot of traffic really worth it? How would you feel if you had a mid air accident at a crowded ridge just trying to win the daily sink-out contest or eke out a few extra minutes of flight time?

Please remember to use common, recommended practices for clear communication, like yelling “clear” or “launching” before taking off. Follow the ridge rules knowing that most ridge flying environments are three-dimensional, and that all pilots need to be flexible with the ridge rules: see and avoid! Be aware of all of the people in the air with you, and always indicate your intention to turn by looking, tilting your head, leaning, etc. to give everyone sufficient warning before executing on your actual turn.

Don’t be afraid to yell. Have some words on the tip of your tongue - something like “look out” , “heads up”, “on your right.” It’s worth knowing that as soon as one person yells in traffic, all the people flying at that time will start paying more attention. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s yelling so don’t be afraid to kick your feet or somehow identify yourself as the one who is uncomfortable.

If you need to make a course correction to avoid a traffic conflict, please do it early. Most near miss accounts include at least one party having recognized the situation quite early, but then waiting to take corrective action until it was quite late.

Help us help you

As always, we welcome your feedback on these subjects and we encourage you to report all incidents and accidents. This information is gathered for statistical analysis, and so that we can identify trends that are worth pointing out to the pilot population.

The only acceptable goal for this season is zero mid airs.


Chris Santacroce & Mitch Shipley
USHPA Accident Review Committee Co-Chairs