Clearing the Area

Clearing Turns – See and be Seen

Clearing Turns. Or, Clear the Area?

“If this was a checkride, I’d do the clearing turns before each maneuver”.

“Would you like for me to do clearing turns?”

Surprisingly, I hear such statements coming from CFI applicants all the time. And this breaks my heart. Really, it does.

Clearing turns have just one purpose – not to be at the same place and the same time as another object. The other object could be an aircraft, and radio tower, or even a bird.

And why would we not want to avoid this situation, all the time?

The current private pilot and commercial pilot Airmen Certification Standards (ACS), the successor of Practical Test Standards (PTS) has replaced the terminology from “perform clearing turns” to “CLEAR THE AREA”. Clearing the area is a procedure, and there are various ways to achieve this. Clearing Turns are one such method. But the objective remains unchanged – Clear the area.

Clearing Turns, or, Clear the Area

Clearing the area, where we are about to practice maneuvers, is NOT a flight maneuver, but a goal; a process that saves lives. We wouldn’t simply just ram through a country intersection (with no stop signs) without looking both ways now, would we? Then why would we want to operate an airplane in an area without first making sure that we have minimized the chances of running into another object first?

This process not only ensures that we have looked around, ensuring that there is nothing else around us but also increases the chances of us being seen by others. An airplane in a turn is a lot easily visible to the naked eye than one flying straight and level.

There are many different types of clearing procedures. Most are centered around the use of clearing turns. The essential idea of the clearing turn is to be certain that the next maneuver is not going to proceed into another airplane’s flightpath. Some pilot training programs have hard and fast rules, such as requiring two 90° turns in opposite directions before executing any training maneuver. Other types of clearing procedures may be developed by individual flight instructors. Whatever the preferred method, the flight instructor should teach the beginning student an effective clearing procedure and insist on its use. The student pilot should execute the appropriate clearing procedure before all turns and before executing any training maneuver. Proper clearing procedures, combined with proper visual scanning techniques, are the most effective strategy for collision avoidance.

Airplane Flying Handbook
Clear the Area – not just perform “a clearing turn”

How to Teach (some pointers)

  • The objective is to clear the area – clearing turns are simply a tool to achieve this.
  • Learning is a change of behavior, as a result of experience. Unless clearing the area has become a habit, the learning is not complete.
  • Clearing the area should be a reflex and not another flight maneuver. Just like we look both ways before crossing a street (without even thinking).
  • Listen over the radio and announce. Listen, even when not actively communicating.
  • Maintain situation awareness; which includes knowing everything that is around you, and that is going on around you.
  • Scanning and actively looking all around is what it takes. Simply glancing out is not enough.
  • Don’t forget to look above and below, and around the blind spots of the aircraft.
  • Practice – See and be Seen – use aircraft lighting and shallow turns to increase the aircraft’s profile.
  • Focus on clearing the area of any potential collision hazards, and not just focus on “performing” a maneuver.
  • The process of clearing the area is not limited to just clearing turns. This is an ongoing process, in-flight and on the ground.
  • Look for shadows on the ground, and the sun’s position relative to you.
  • Read and share FAA AC 90-48B – Pilot’s Role in Collision Avoidance.

If you think you have something to share/add to this, please do so in the comments section below. let’s share what we know and what we have learned from our experiences.

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2 thoughts on “Clearing Turns – See and be Seen”

  1. Mike Jorgensen

    One thing to emphasise is that for most of your life, your lookout has pretty much only included the horizon. So learning to scan higher and lower is something that needs to be emphasised.
    Then verbally communicating the traffic to the other pilot in a clear concise manner eg “Traffic left 10 o’clock, low, 2 miles, no confliction.”

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