A passenger constantly trying to grab the controls distracted a pilot, who then overflew an air show, and had a near collision with two aircraft! However there were other factors at play, too.
The incident happened last September, at the Shuttleworth drive-in event at Old Warden Aerodrome (EGTH), in Bedfordshire UK. The Airprox Board recently published a report on the incident, evaluating the risk it represented.
Because of the event, Restricted Airspace (Temporary) was in force over the private aerodrome. Before the near collision, a pre-war Desoutter made its air show performance, with several passes. Meanwhile, a PA-18 (Piper SuperCub) was towing a glider to altitude, so that it would make its own performance. This was a historic Fauvel AV36 tailless glider.
Shortly before 4pm local, the PA-18 tug pilot announced on AFIS that the glider would be releasing in 30 secs. This was also the cue for the Desoutter pilot to finish up, giving space to the PA-18 and the glider. While exiting the air show area, it was the Desoutter pilot who noticed the near collision. A PA-46 (Piper Malibu) was crossing over Old Warden Aerodrome, at 2,300 feet.
The Air Show Near-Miss
The PA-18 pilot was concentrating on the glider, looking in the mirror, and had missed the PA-46. The Desoutter pilot radioed “One going through the overhead in front of you Cub”. The PA-18 pilot then reported looking forward and seeing the PA-46, 50ft below and 300ft away horizontally. The Malibu crossed at 90 degrees, right-to-left. After this near collision, the glider pilot released normally and proceeded with the air show performance.
The PA-46 pilot was on Cambridge Approach frequency, not the Old Warden AFIS. The aircraft crossed the aerodrome at 2,300ft on a VFR flight. The pilot wasn’t aware of the NOTAM relating to the air show, but saw the PA-18 and didn’t believe a near collision was likely. The pilot’s estimate on aircraft separation was much higher than that of the PA-18’s pilot, both horizontally and vertically.
Crucially, however, the PA-46 pilot reported a serious distraction from a passenger, sitting on the front right seat. The passenger was constantly asking to try to fly the aircraft. And despite being told not to do so, kept interfering with the controls! This required the PA-46 pilot to keep vigilant inside the cockpit, possibly missing valuable external cues and making navigation slips.
Even so, the PA-46 pilot opined that this wasn’t a near collision with the air show aircraft. By contrast, the PA-18 pilot felt that the risk of collision was ‘High’. And this was also the impression of the Desoutter pilot, who first saw the PA-46. However, there was more to this apparent near collision than an air show and a straying pilot with a troublesome passenger.
The PA-18 tow plane had its transponder switched off. The PA-46 featured TAS (Traffic Advisory System), however this system requires other aircraft to have transponders. This meant that during the near collision, the distracted pilot in the PA-46 got no advisory for the air show aircraft. The Airprox Board’s report lists this as a contributing factor in the near collision.
Additionally, the AFIS Operator (AFISO) at Old Warden Aerodrome was unaware of the conflict, until the Desoutter pilot’s radio call. And with the glider in tow, the PA-18 had little maneuverability, with which to avoid the faster PA-46. Fortunately the situation ended without a collision, but it could easily have been much worse. Ground radar later couldn’t verify vertical separation of the two aircraft. But horizontal separation was less than 0.1NM.
Mid-air collisions are a concern for GA aircraft, with recent tragic events over Alaska and elsewhere. But a near collision during an air show, involving a straying aircraft in a built-up area, is disturbing. Many holes in the Swiss-cheese model lined up: transponder, lack of awareness for NOTAMs and the RA(T), plus the unusual distraction from an unruly passenger. Fortunately for everyone flying and underneath them, these holes were not enough.
The Airprox Board Report is HERE