Near Miss in the Big Sky

Flying today in South Central Missouri and a Military Jet flew right in front of us. I was level at 7500 ft on a SE heading when the 3 of us in the plane saw a blur and a military jet on a SW heading. No time to react and he was gone! I have the B F Goodrich Skywatch installed in my plane and don’t know why but had NO WARNING. After the plane passed looked down and and plane showed up on TCAS. I don’t know if the Military Jet did not have transponder on until we met or if he was climbing and was in a blind spot for the TCAS. From the time the plane flew in front of us we had no more than 2 seconds and we felt his wake (Probably closer to 1 second).

One of the reasons I purchased the TCAS was to prevent the unexpected when you least expect it. I didn’t subscribe to the Big Sky — little airplane theory and considered this as a very important safety feature for me.

Unfortunately I didn’t have flight following today as I usually do, but was clear sky and was at an altitude which I thought I wouldn’t even see another plane for this 200 mile trip. In defense of the other pilot, he was on a heading which he would have been looking into the Sun and if he saw me at all I’m sure he would have been just as surprised to see me.

I am still glad I have the TCAS and would highly recommend for anyone contemplating whether to spend the money or not. Nothing is perfect, and my experience today makes me count my blessings. I feel fortunate to be able to sit here and write this.

SR22 #85


Without reopening the discussion about the value of TCAS, this incident does demonstrate four things:

  1. TCAS is entirely dependent on being able to read the transponders of other aircraft. There have been numerous posts about SR2x transponders not being readable by ATC in certain aircraft attidudes. In general, aircraft transponder antennae are mounted on the belly of the aircraft (to get better reception from ATC radar based receivers on the ground). Thus, I would expect that there are going to be more occassions when those transponder transmissions are blocked FROM ABOVE by the aircraft body itself. Or intererpreted by TCAS as being further away than they really are due to signal attenuation. Particularly if the aircraft is relatively large. And fast moving probably doesn’t help much either.

  2. Flight following helps. Or file an IFR flight plan - which in crowded NE airspace doesn’t allow controller’s to decline flight following due workload.

  3. Mode-S based TIS MAY be a better alternative than TCAS in those areas where it is currently available - which certainly doesn’t include central MO. We’ll see when Garmin releases its new transponder. And when Cirrus finds a way to get it into the aircraft.

  4. VFR still relies heavily on ‘see and be seen’. Don’t let the TCAS convince you otherwise.



I’m a little embarrased to reply to your post - it reminded me that I still owe you a response to your e-mail about getting together sometime (which I’d like to do)

I flew through southcentral Missouri Wednesday and Thursday (SUS to XNA and back). At least on those days, MOA’s and restricted areas were hot. I assume you checked NOTAMs and you were clear, but it is still indicitive that these are high traffic areas. Personally, I view them as potentially heavy traffic areas (especially these days) just like a class B or C. Additionally, you get all us crazies from SUS, which as you know, is very very busy (2nd busiest airport, behind STL, in three-state area).

Personal opinion - considering the traffic in the area, I always file instruments on a cross-country, and use flight following in a local flight. Always. Just like fastning seatbelt in the car for a short trip.

Thanks for your post - it was great food for thought!


  1. The military jet most likely had his transponder off prior to your encounter, and came to take a look at you. He turned his transponder on afterwards until you cleared the area.
  2. There were probably anywhere from 2 to 7 other military jets in your immediate vicinity that you probably never saw who also had their transponders off.
  3. You were never in danger of colliding with any of the military jets. Rest assured–they knew you were there, at what altitude, at what ground speed, that you had one internal-combustion engine, that you were a GA airplane (and possibly your exact type). If you had a Mode S transponder, they would also know your mailing address and birth date.

Kelly Rudy

Being IFR doesn’t necessarily help. Earlier this year I was on a published IFR departure out of Lake Tahoe under radar and climbing through 11,000. Suddenly my entire windshield was full of F-15 air intake. The single F-15 passed about 50 feet above me. Oakland Center did not have him on radar, had no flight plan and had no idea who he was or why he was there. I did not see his wing.

I do not believe the F-15 pilot ever saw me. I caught a glimpse of his head as the aircraft went by and he appeared to be looking straight ahead. If he had seen me, I do not believe even an Air Force fighter pilot would be stupid enough to fly so close to a light GA aircraft.

You were never in danger of colliding with any of the military jets. Rest assured–they knew you were there

Tell that to the guy in Florida. Not only did they not know were he was, they didn’t even know where they were. But for you TCAS lovers, the guy that hit the Cessna didn’t have his transponder on either.

Maybe it’s time to move to New Zealand!


Twenty years ago I was flying west across San Francisco Bay at 4500 feet. I had flight following, but this was before the days of TCAS. A small dot at 12 oclock grew to a large dot and I banked hard to the right, missing a fighter by a few hundred feet. Never a peep from control, and never any follow up explanation. We’d all like to believe that doing everything by the book will keep us safe, but it was pure luck that I saw that boogey in time.