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Mid-Air Collision Avoidance…No Radio Required!

Posted 1 years 263 days ago ago by Admin

As the proud owner of a 1940 Piper Cub, I enjoy flying an aircraft that takes me back in time. From the moment I see that bright, yellow beauty, I’m encapsulated in an era when flying was a peaceful get away to a privileged few. Of course, my flight activities in my Cub are now conducted among more modern and better performing aircraft. Could the disparity of performance and regulatory allowance between my Cub and other aircraft create a potential safety hazard?

A few weeks ago, I woke to a beautiful morning that beckoned me into the air. I headed to the airport to take the Cub for a spin. On a day like that, if you don’t fly, you probably shouldn’t own a Cub!

After start and quick taxi, I pedal turned in the run-up area for a sneak peek at the base-to-final turn to insure no air traffic. I could have just made a call on the radio; however, my Cub is all original. That means to no electrical system and no radio. This is perfectly legal if the flight doesn’t enter airspace that has a communication requirement.

As I began to taxi onto the runway, a helicopter flies past the front of the Cub on what appears to be a go-around maneuver. My initial thought was “where did they come from”? I was frustrated that the helicopter pilot had not made a radio call, and then it hit me; I don’t have a radio. I departed and enjoyed my flight that morning, but the close nature of the runway incursion stuck with me. I couldn’t help but think this occurrence was my fault simply because I didn’t have the proper safety equipment in my airplane.

This got me thinking about the regulations that allow me to fly my Cub at an airport with such varied performing aircraft all without any requirement for communications. Does the spirit of aviation freedom outweigh common sense safety initiatives?

I’m not the type of person to squander my freedoms easily, but as a good steward for the safety of flight, a compromise must be made. I believe there is a time and place for aircraft to operate radio-free, but we as an industry must develop more stringent standards. Even within Class G airspace, the volume, and varied complexities of aircraft along with increased performance may dictate that required communications is the safest path.

I spoke to the helicopter crew when I got back to the airport while at the self-serve fuel farm. At the time of the incursion, the helicopter was conducting an autorotation with a turn, so their base to final was quite short. As a longtime Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) in helcopters, I found that I knew the flight instructor having been his DPE on his FAA Commercial Helicopter practical exam. He was surprised that with me being such a staunch advocate for flight safety, I would operate an aircraft in such voluminous airspace without a radio.

After that experience, I would agree!   

About Randy: 
Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.

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