Going Your Separate Ways

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
4 min readJul 6, 2022

By Tom Hoffmann, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Editor

We all know the strengths and weaknesses of our aircraft, including the inevitability that what might be a clear advantage for one can be a complete detriment for another. Nowhere is this distinction more evident than in maintaining visual separation from other aircraft, aka, see-and-avoid. The near-polar opposite blind spots found on many high and low wing GA aircraft have all too often been a leading cause in mid-air or near mid-air collisions. However, staying safely separated really boils down to pilot know-how more than having any kind of built-in design advantage.

Plane-spotting can be a difficult task, even more so in the heavily congested environment of an air show or fly-in. Sound collision avoidance techniques require a more patient and methodical approach than the constantly moving, head-on-a-swivel tactic that some might think is required. According to the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, effective scanning is accomplished with a series of short, regularly spaced eye movements that bring successive areas of the sky into the central visual field. Each movement should not exceed 10 degrees, and each sky segment should be observed for at least one second to enable detection. This slow and steady approach helps compensate for the limitations the human eye has in being able to detect targets.


Since dozens of factors can affect your ability to track other aircraft while airborne, here is a list of Top 5 tips and best practices to maximize safety. It should serve you well whether you’re on a local $100 hamburger run or following the railroad tracks on the Fisk VFR Arrival to OSH with several thousand fellow aviators!

  1. Clean your windscreen. 🧽 This one is obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Remember, it’s the dot that’s not moving that will eventually become a traffic conflict. If it’s fast-moving and hiding behind a month-old bug splatter, you might not see it until it becomes a big problem. Also, take care of your plastic “glass.” If the acrylic windscreen is old and crazed, the sun will cause additional glare looking through scores of micro cracks, making traffic spotting that much harder.
  2. Take your favorite chair for a ride. 💺 Study and chair fly any published procedures ahead of time so that when you actually need to fly it, your heads down time is minimal. Adhering to the appropriate procedure and strictly adhering to routes, altitudes, and airspeeds is the best way to de-conflict with other traffic in a heavy traffic environment. Dial in to the appropriate frequencies early if possible to monitor the flow and build a mental picture for situational awareness.
  3. Keep your head up. 👨‍✈️ In cockpit traffic detection tools such as ADS-B In are great, but not if the pilot is heads down looking at a display rather than outside the cockpit. Whether it’s another pilot or a keen non-pilot, an extra set of eyes is always super handy. You might want to assign ADS-B traffic monitoring to your in-cockpit helper so you can keep your eyes outside.
  4. Don’t block the view. 📱 There’s been a recent trend to add all sorts of gizmos into the cockpit. With little real estate in the panel of a typical GA cockpit, pilots have a habit of stowing these devices on the glare shield or suction-cupping them to windows. Technology is great; just make sure the devices and the mounts for them are not blocking your view outside the cockpit.
  5. See, and be seen! 💡 Make yourself as visible as possible. Turn your lights on. Switch to LEDs if you’re concerned about burning out bulbs.

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This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.
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FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. The magazine is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).