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COLLISION COURSE - Civilian, military pilots unite to avoid midairs

History provides a stunning analysis of midair events: Most typically take place in daylight, under good visibility, with the low-speed aircraft within 30 degrees relative bearing of the other aircraft's flight path. In other words, the aviators should see each other, but often don't.
(photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen/composite by David M. Stack)

History provides a stunning analysis of midair events: Most typically take place in daylight, under good visibility, with the low-speed aircraft within 30 degrees relative bearing of the other aircraft's flight path. In other words, the aviators should see each other, but often don't. (photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen/composite by David M. Stack)

Stinson Airfield, San Antonio, Texas -- Renowned American aviator Charles Lindbergh was barely 8 years old when the first recorded midair collision took place in Milan, Italy, in 1910. Since then, midair collision hazards have steadily risen and continue to plague the aviation world.

So when members of the 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, hosted a civil fly-in March 5, and then in turn, attended a "Safer Skies" safety briefing hosted by the San Antonio Helicopter Unit police department at Stinson Airfield, San Antonio, April 7, it would have made Lindbergh proud. The military members and civilians came together to educate each other on the potential hazards within their local environment.

During the exchange, Maj. David Garcia, 12th FTW flight safety officer, introduced the Air Force's Midair Collision Avoidance program, better known as MACA. MACA's objective is to prevent airspace conflicts through improvements of airspace coordination procedures. This includes examples of the operating areas and the capabilities of the aircraft that are flown in these areas, to include the altitudes at which they fly.

"Above all else, it just opens up the flow of communication between those guys and us so when we're sharing the same airspace, we do it as safe as we can," Garcia said.

There are seven airports in the San Antonio area. Pilots from the military, air medical, law enforcement, news media, Civil Air Patrol, firefighters, commercial airliners, and the recreational aviation community all must share airspace.

"The ultimate goal is to educate all the players involved on the potential hazards while operating in San Antonio's congested airspace," said Lt. Col. Sean McGlynn, Air Education and Training Command chief of flight safety at Randolph.

The diverse flying environment in San Antonio creates unique situations, which if not mitigated could lead to disaster, McGlynn said.

Ironically, most midair collisions occur during daylight hours, in visual flight rules conditions with visibility of at least three miles, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (see, "Midair Collision Facts"). Military pilots and aircraft have not been immune to these hazards (see "Midair Crashes").

"That's why it is imperative that all Air Force bases with flying operations establish close working relationships with their civilian counterparts ... to identify and mitigate the potential hazards in the local flying environment," McGlynn said. "The 12th Flying Training Wing's community outreach and proactive initiatives have established a MACA program for others to emulate."