Thursday, April 2, 2009

Flying a Stabilized Approach

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Flying a Stabilized Approach

While flying at LAL BPPP clinic, a pilot that I have flown with in years prior related to me an experience that he had while flying into Gainesville Fl (KGNV) for a University of Florida football game. The weather was IFR and the pilot and airplane (BE-35) were up for the mission. Here are his comments:

“I had a personal experience while flying that exemplified the value and importance of following the procedures and protocol that we have been taught time and time again. The ability to share these experiences, best practices and pit falls is of great value to all pilots, no mater what level of experience.

Lesson Learned: A stable approach and following the procedure will result in an “uneventful” approach.

A nice Fall Saturday in the Southeastern US, a great day for two of the Southeastern Conference powerhouses to show off their talents in the presence of 90,000 crazed fans. Cool temperatures, calm winds, 800’ overcast sky and lots of excitement in the air. As 90,000 were making their way to the stadium, a fortunate number of them were coming by air, including me. As I was handed off to the approach controller, I had already loaded the ILS approach procedure and had the approach plates reviewed and ready. The approach controller was working with 5 different aircraft in the vicinity of the airport, trying to figure out how to get them all smoothly to the initial approach fix and down the glide slope. It just so happened that I was selected to be moved to the head of the line and first for the approach. Although I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason, I had not been cleared to the initial approach altitude and was about 1500’ above it. However, based on my experience, I had plenty of room to burn off 1500’ of altitude before I hit the FAF. At the same time, the controller asked me to maintain my maximum forward speed to the FAF, due to the jet traffic following me in. Not a problem I thought to myself, even though this airplane burns 100LL, going downhill she acts like she’s drinking Jet A. As I intercepted the localizer, I realized that I was still above the glide slope, but thought that I would quickly be able to catch it I continued to the FAF. When I crossed the FAF, I was still above the GS and had to slow down to gear speed. Instead of going missed at that point, I continued on, thinking that I would be able to catch the glide slope or break out. When I reached the missed approach point, I was still above the GS and in IMC and executed a missed approach. After I executed the missed approach, I was placed in line for a second approach and landed uneventfully.

What did I learn (re-learn)?
• No matter what the conditions or circumstances, don’t accept a clearance that will not enable you to fly a normal and stabilized approach – you are PIC.
• Procedures are developed to minimize unexpected outcomes – follow the procedures
• Fly by the numbers – the only pilots that don’t believe in them are those that have never used them
• You can’t catch a falling glide slope
• A stable approach configuration + flying the procedure = a predictable and stable approach = a safe and uneventful approach and landing”

The majority of pilots that I have flown with over the years have never had to fly an actual missed approach. They have only “gone missed” during training. This was an example of why someone might have to “go missed” even though the weather was above minimums. I teach my pilots never attempt to capture the glide slope from above. It is too difficult to descend, capture glide slope, and then maintain the correct approach airspeed to the decision altitude.

Fortunately, this pilot realized his dilemma and executed the missed approach procedure, took his time, and returned for a stabilized approach and landing. Some pilots might have pushed the envelope and descended rapidly to break out of the clouds. When the pilot relayed this story to me it was already three months passed. He was still unnerved by the experience and professing never to allow that situation to continue in the future.

Paul Gretschel

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