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Near Mid-Air Collision On Final Approach

Here's what you can do to avoid an incident like this on your next flight...

Craig Henry

Video: Overtaken On Final Approach

The following video was posted a few years ago showing a near mid-air collision in the traffic pattern. A pilot flying a C172 Skyhawk at a non-towered airport was overtaken on final approach by a Beech 76 Duchess just after rounding out from base to final. As you can see, these aircraft missed each other by a matter of feet.

At 39 seconds, you can see a sharp left bank by the Cessna, followed by a go-around. The Duchess continues its approach, seemingly unaware of the near-deadly encounter.

There Are Many Similar Reports

Two pilots filed the following NASA ASRS report following a near mid-air collision (NMAC) in the traffic pattern, this time at a towered airport. Just like in the video above, the incident resulted in part due to visibility issues from a high-wing aircraft flying below a low-wing aircraft. Here's what this pilot had to say...

We were directed by Tower to tune to a separate frequency typically used for aircraft doing pattern work on Runway XXL. The Tower queried us on whether we were lined up for XXL, which we replied in the affirmative. Shortly after, I noticed another aircraft on our G430W traffic advisory system quickly approaching from approximately our 7 o'clock position. This aircraft was initially indicating approximately 300 feet above our present altitude and descending. We queried the Tower whether or not they were talking to this aircraft, and the controller responded that she wasn't, but the controller on the main Tower frequency was, and apparently the traffic was landing on the parallel Runway XXR.

The traffic advisory showed our aircraft converging at approximately the same altitude, and we immediately took action to descend because this traffic was descending faster and was essentially on top of us. The Mooney (we believe this was a Mooney) is a low wing aircraft, and the C172 is a high wing aircraft, making it exceptionally difficult to see one another. Eventually, after descending well below the glide slope on final, we saw the Mooney approximately 250 feet horizontally and 100 feet above us at our 2 o'clock position. The pilot flying in our C172 continued the approach and performed a go-around maneuver due to our approach at this point being unstabilized. I then took over the aircraft and performed a normal pattern and approach to a full stop landing. We decided to discontinue at that time due to being somewhat "shaken-up" over the incident.


High Wing vs. Low Wing Visibility

In each of the examples detailed above, high-wing aircraft were caught below low-wing aircraft. If you've flown in both types, you'll know exactly how challenging this can be from a pilot's perspective when it comes to spotting traffic. There are noticeable high and low blind spots side to side in high-wing airplanes and low-wing airplanes, respectively.

If you're ever in doubt about the location of another airplane, you could make a shallow turn to dip or raise a wing for better visibility. There's no harm in exiting the pattern and side-stepping the final approach course if you need to as well.

Traffic Pattern And Approach Speed Considerations

First off, you should always follow standard traffic pattern procedures at non-towered airports. Had the Duchess pilot in the video above entered the traffic pattern, the incident would never have happened.

Aircraft speed can be another issue, even when everyone is using the same traffic pattern procedures. If you have a pattern with a J-3 Cub, a Cessna 172, a Cirrus SR-22, and a King Air, there's quite a bit of coordination that needs to happen to keep everyone separated and sequenced. The typical rule-of-thumb for flying traffic patterns is that you should let the aircraft you're following pass behind your wing before you turn base. By doing that, you usually have enough room to let the aircraft in front of you land and exit the runway before you're on short final.

If slowing yourself down to match speeds isn't an option, then you need to start adjusting your pattern. One of the best ways to make sure you'll have enough spacing between you and the aircraft in front of you is to extend your downwind. But how far should you extend? There's no playbook for that. You need to use your judgment, and let everyone around you know what you're doing. Extending your downwind by a mile or slightly more typically works out well, but the way you announce your downwind extension over the radios is important. of announcing how far you're extending downwind (which can be subjective from your perspective), describe where you're planning to turn your base. Is it over a major road or landmark? By describing where you're going, instead of the distance alone, you'll help everyone around you know where to look and find you.


What Else Can You Do?

An incident like this can happen to you at any airport, in any airplane. What are some things you do to ensure separation with other traffic on final. Do you think the pilots in the examples above handled the situation well? Tell us in the comments below.

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Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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