IFR AT 9000Â’ Â– No Worries Right?
What better way to end four days at South-By-Southwest (the annual pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for music lovers and people in the business Â– kind of like CirrusÂ’ annual migrations – all converging on Austin for 5 days to listen to the countryÂ’s best new talent and study a wide range of issues relating to todayÂ’s complicated music industry) than a smooth ride back to Atlanta on a mostly clear day.
All was well with our beautiful flight originating out of Austin Bergstrom International departing from RW17R Â–
- 626SR turn 120 degrees after departure, cleared for takeoffÂ….
And so up we go to niner thousand with a nice tail wind pushing us toward home as we settle in for our four hour mission back to FTY, with an intermediate refueling and stretch my tired legs stop in Jackson, Mississippi. From KJAN we again request nine thousand where we know weÂ’ll find smooth air. Level at nine thousand, check list complete, leaned for best power (ok, forget I said that), whatÂ’s left to do other than a little engine monitoring and a lot of daydreaming, right? Well, almost until seemingly from no where, our TCAS comes alive with a target – 100Â’ separation simultaneously accompanied by the audible TRAFFIC Â– TRAFFIC Â– accompanied by
- 626SR VFR traffic 12 oÂ’clock, opposite direction your altitude;
- NO CONTACT request vector;
- 6SR, assume you have traffic;
- NO; NEED A VECTOR Â– (meanwhile exercising our responsibility for the safety of the flight we were already in a steep turn to the right, accompanied by a steep descent to some indeterminate new unassigned altitude)
- 6SR turn right immediately to 090 and descend to 8,000Â….
- 6SR heading 110 and level at eightÂ…
- 6SR, traffic no longer a factor, resume own navigation and climb back to niner thousand approvedÂ….
WOW, I hadnÂ’t really bargained for thatÂ….and so now I began to review what just happened or better yet, what hadnÂ’t happened! My best estimate, assuming the other Â“pilotÂ’sÂ” altimeter was set correctly so his mode C report meant something (a big assumption under the circumstances) was that we were within Â½ mile and 100Â’, closing rapidly.
Upon brief reflection, I requested Meridian Approach track the VFR aircraft flying at an IFR altitude in the wrong direction and apply whatever justice they deemed appropriateÂ….they tried but failed. They did track the aircraft to a field, but, the airport manager claimed not to have seen any airplanes arrive. So, the negligent and/or incompetent pilot is still out there exercising the Â“privilegeÂ”, placing the rest of us at great risk!
Shortly thereafter, I was handed off to Atlanta Center and a very quiet radio; so, still reeling a bit from my experience, I asked the controller if he had a minute and assuring me that he did, I briefly relayed my experience and suggested that I wanted to file a reportÂ…somewhat to my surprise he responded that he had noticed the target in his airspace at that altitude a bit earlier!
I was offered phone numbers for both Meridian and Atlanta. I called for several reasons Â– 1) first and foremost, to thank the Meridian controller for his tremendous help; 2)to ask why the Atlanta controller did not send up/ set-off alarms that a VFR plane was at an IFR altitude going the wrong direction (I was sadly informed that it happens Â“all the timeÂ” and that the controllers donÂ’t have time to deal with them all!) and 3) to file a Â“preliminary mid air reportÂ”Â…(my first and I hope my last experience of this type.
So what can we learn? 1) I canÂ’t afford to daydream and not constantly scan all resources continuously; 2) an IFR flight plan is no guarantee of traffic separation 3) although not very pretty, the systems workedÂ…both on the ground and in the air; for that I am both grateful and able to write this post!
Happy flying and please be safe…