Learning to operate an aircraft safely in the flight environment is essential. If we want to become a proficient, professional pilot and show this to our passengers in such a way that they feel safe and confident flying with us. Then there are some things we need to become very good at.
Remember that when two aircraft approach each other head on at 100 kts (not an uncommon speed) they travel over 3 miles per minute. And with a visibility of 1.5 miles you will have less than 30 seconds to react before you see the other aircraft.... if you were looking in the right direction.
As a pilot you need to be constantly aware of your aircraft and the environment you are fly in. Things as clearing turns, the right of way, low flying cruising altitudes and more are emphasized here.
Traffic Pattern / Circuit
VFR means Visual Flight Rules. Visual means with the eyes. We therefore need a good lookout to remain clear of clouds and other objects in the air or on the ground.
Before practicing, clearing turns
We all did them when we were in training and the flight instructor was onboard with us. These maneuvers are very important as they show the areas of blind spots of the aircraft we fly in. So practicing clearing turns long after we are licensed are useful and can be fun to do when there is some variation added to them.
Do them at slow speed, or with climbing and descending turns to the left or right. With or without flaps (But: do not forget to look around you when practicing these). This way it keeps the pilot sharp and hones his or her flying skills at critically low airspeeds (helpful when it comes to a landing eventually).
The right of ways rules are quite simple, they have to do with maneuverability and urgency:
- An aircraft in distress has the right of way over all other aircraft
- The least maneuverable aircraft has the right of way
- Aircraft approaching from your right have the right of way (This is were you see the red light on their left wing)
- When approaching head on (or almost) both move to the right and when overtaking an aircraft pass well clear to the right (on the ground too, just make sure you leave some room for the wings)
- Last but not least: When two aircraft are approaching for landing, the lower aircraft has the right of way but shall not take advantage of this.
Finally: check your aviation regulations and these Eurocontrol VFR flight rules for tips on this. Rules change every now and then.
Low flying, minimum safe altitudes
These minimums apply at all times except during take off or landing. The lowest you can fly is an altitude which will allow an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the ground. Over congested areas to fly at least 1000 ft (300m) above any obstacle within 2000 ft (600m). Uncongested areas are easier: fly at least 500 ft above the surface. These are basic rules only, for details: check the FARs or your local rules for the final word on this. These may differ per country.
VFR cruising altitudes
Any time in level flight and above 3000 ft AGL, some countries have 3500 ft, eastbound: fly odd thousand levels + 500 ft. On a westbound heading fly even thousands levels + 500 ft. Eastbound headings are 0 - 179 degrees, westbound headings are 180 - 359 degrees (all are magnetic).
See and be seen, lights on
When flying near or in controlled airspaces like class B, C, D, CTRs or anywhere near an active airport, I recommend switching on the landing or taxi lights. Aircraft visibility is greatly enhanced with these lights on. If you have a 'wig wag' flashing system, do use it. This contributes enormous to safety. Just as cleaning the windshield prior to the flight. Those bugs can be really bugging trying to look beyond them.
When radio communications fail there must be a way for tower operators to maintain communication with aircraft. Light gun signals have been developed in the past for this. To the right a summary:
Some VFR flight maps or sectionals have these light gun signals depicted on the map. It really pays to fly with an instructor and arrange with a nearby tower controller to exercise these procedures every now and then.