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Aircraft avoidance at the West Towers

Posted: Wed Sep 13, 2017 5:45 pm
by BudRob
It's never fun to spot a large aircraft coming straight at you, even when you spot it from very far off. That happened to me yesterday, shortly after 4 pm at West Towers.

I got to West Towers at about 4500'. I found no immediate lift and was about to make a wide-searching left turn. I knew I was in MiG alley, so I took a hard look to the north before starting my turn. I didn't see anything at first but looked one more time as I began my searching turn. This time I saw a silver glint way off in the distance. I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't moving so I figured it might be headed directly toward me. So instead of making a very slow turn, I made a hard and steep banked turn so that I would be visible to this aircraft and also lose some altitude. Once I completed my turn and faced north again, I could see that this was a Southwest 737 closing fast, and it was beginning a slow turn to the west, presumably to miss me. This realization gave me a direction to run so I flew east as fast as I could, trying to lose altitude at the same time.
I am estimating that it was somewhere between 30-45 seconds from the time I spotted the jet and when it passed me. I was down to 4000' and east of the West Towers, and I guessed its altitude to be around 4800', just west of the West Towers. This separation provided enough distance that I don't think either of us was too worried, but it could have been different if I hadn’t spotted the aircraft as far off as I did.

I was a bit surprised at how fast that 737 got to me from the time I spotted it as a silver glint in the distance but I suppose I shouldn't have been. It is yet another lesson in keeping your eyes trained to the north on every turn made in that area above 4000'. If you spot a jet coming at you and can identify it from first glance, it may already be too late.