Being A Good Spotter

Have you spent a lot of time at a flying field? Do you do a lot of flying or a lot of standing around and chatting (the main activity at a flying field)? Then I’m sure at some point you’ve been asked to act as a spotter for another pilot. The first time that you’re asked your mind freezes and you wonder if you are good enough to be a spotter… whatever that is! Well, calm your fears. If you have not yet been asked to spot for somebody then please sit back and soak in the knowledge that I’m about to give to you.

Let me answer a very important question that has probably just popped into your head. No, just because you are acting as a spotter does NOT mean that you have to wear spots. This is not golf where one of the rules is that you must dress in a goofy manner in order to be allowed out on the grass. I would suggest that you not wear a loud Hawaiian shirt, though. After all, you don’t want to distract the pilot that you’re supposed to be helping.

What does a spotter do? Well, you are the eyes, ears, and mouth for the pilot. The pilot’s job is to have fun flying his aircraft. Your job is to make sure that everybody else at the field knows what the pilot is doing. For instance, as he gets ready to fling his airplane into the air you want to yell along the flight line, “Taking off!” When the pilot is going to do a low pass across the runway you need to yell out, “Low pass, left to right!” If there’s a 3D flip-flop plane hovering over the runway you need to make sure that your pilot is aware of this fact. You want to tell him something along the lines of, “There’s an Edge hovering a couple feet over the runway so you’re going to want to stay high until I let you know that he’s gone.” I do not suggest that you inform your pilot about it in this way <pilot’s jet comes screaming out of a dive and starts a low pass down the runway>, “Umm, there’s a plane hovering… never mind. You just ran right into him.” Also, if he asks you where another plane is currently located, it is recommended that you verbally say it instead of just pointing. You are a SPOTTER, not a POINTER. Okay?

It does help if you know the pilot you’re spotting for and their typical style of flight. Let’s say, for example, that there’s a pilot at your field named… Sam. Sam likes to fly planes like a Kadet Senior or a SIG Rascal. Again, this is just an example off of the top of my head. After having watched Sam fly his planes for a while you realize that he likes to fly high and slow. Maybe he does a loop now and again just to shake things up. If he asks you to spot for him you would mainly be saying things like, “Taking off!” “Sam, here comes Jay’s 16 from the left… wait, now the right… never mind, he’s coming straight up at you. Keep your course, he’ll veer around you.” “Be careful! You’ve got a Radian off to the right. He’s a lot faster than you, so keep to the left.” “Stay high because Doug is doing his loops.” “Landing! Right to left!” “Pilot on the field.” That’s a pretty good example of what you would have to do as you were spotting for a person named Sam, if he really existed.

Another responsibility of a spotter is to know where everybody else is in the sky while your pilot is up there. You want to let him know, “We’ve got a little Piper Cub floundering about at the end of the runway. Stay high until I can tell if he’s going to clear the field.” If you suddenly hear somebody yell that they have a dead stick, make sure your pilot knows. He might have been busy looking at how gorgeous his Stryker was when he did a pop top. He needs to know to not want to land until that dead sticked plane is down and out of the way. Also, if somebody yells out, “Landing… in about 10 minutes or so” you want to make sure your pilot hears that so he can join you in snickering about it. After all, just because he’s flying doesn’t mean that he should miss out on some of the goofy things that are being said.

As a good spotter your job is to make sure that the pilot isn’t uptight and stressed about what everybody else is doing in the sky. Your job is to make sure that he’s enjoying himself and can concentrate on his own flight. Feel free to enjoy the pilot’s flight as well, and be supportive. “Wow! That was a gorgeous knife edge!” “That was the best inverted pass I’ve seen today!” “It doesn’t look like your jet even hesitated as it ripped through Doug’s Sukhoi!”

Communication is the key when spotting. Make sure that your pilot knows your style of communication before he takes off. If he doesn’t know that your signal to stay high is to pinch his butt, he might be a bit upset after he crashes due to you giving him that signal. Communication is also important between you and the rest of the flight line. Just because your pilot can hear you, doesn’t mean that the pilot 20 feet away can as well. Inflate those lungs and be heard! Unless you’re trying to impart some important information to your pilot that the others probably shouldn’t overhear, “SAM! YOUR FLY IS OPEN!”

As you can see after a few basic instructions you, too, can become a master spotter. 🙂

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