Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Approach with care

Several years ago I was in the right seat of a lovely almost new Baron, years younger than mine, providing the eyes for a relatively new twin pilot who wanted to do some approaches. We started out for the ILS 35 at ILM. After a clearance from the controller we were on our own. It didn't take long for me to wonder what was happening as we wern't on a part of the approach I knew. So I asked and after a pause the pilot replied he wasn't sure. That was not good and I requested vectors for another approach without giving a reason. This time it was better. Ignorance is bliss, yes but it may kill you,so beware.
An instrument approach is the cats meow. If flown correctly it can put you right on the numbers every time. Note the if. Well what is required? For starters having the data to fly the approach. These can be obtained from various sources. My favorite was Jeppesen. A bit pricey but loaded with the info you need in a readable format.

OK, so now you have the charts out you must look them over. If there is an ATIS on the field, listen to it in plenty of time to get all the pertinent data: wind, ceiling and active runway. This will allow you to select the best approach for the weather/runway. If you don't need the ILS because of a high ceiling maybe the VOR will do and save you some time. This of course depends on the specifics. Sometimes the ILS can be the simplest depending on factors such as traffic.

Say for example we choose the ILS, the most precise, it is time to study the details of the approach. These include altitude at the initial segment, inbound heading and minimum descent altitude. The MDA is critical, busting minimums is not a viable option. It is pertinent here to say that if this approach is to be flown outside the radar environ without approach control guidance, the ball will rest squarely in your court. Now you will be dropped off by center and "cleared for approach" all on your own. Before I offer a check list for performing an approach I should add that you should glance at the missed approach procedure, especially in the non radar setting.

All right so far? Now let's break up the approach into three segments

1. Enroute to the FAF

Set radios, confirm correct freq. with audio
Maintain position awareness (know where you are on the approach-there may be high terrain nearby or even a restricted area).
Crosscheck data with your DME, GPS, ADF
Approach flaps and ready for gear down
Fuel on mains (usually)
Check autopilot on if using a coupled approach
Recheck altitude

2. Final approach fix

Gear down-confirm
Cross check altitude vs. GS if on ILS
Especially if on A/P
Call out altitudes every 500 ft (yes, even if flying solo)
Review minimums and missed proc.

3. Landing Assured (runway in sight and free of traffic)
Final gear check
Disconnect A/P if used

That's it in a nutshell. Follow these guidelines or something of your own doing, BUT do have a procedure for insuring that you cover all your bases, and you will have a good safe approach and happy ending to your flight.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Three In The Green Or Else!

It is absolutely shocking to read the FAA daily accident lists and see how many are due to " landed gear up". Out of a list of ten accidents two to three are gear related. Not all are called "landed gear up" but rather gear failure or landing gear collapsed ( another of the same). If you dont believe me go to the FAA accident site for April 6, 2009, and count the number of gear related accidents. (5)

Now fortunately these are seldom fatal, but they sure can ruin your day and dig deep into your pocketbook. And oh how embarrassing. The only time I ever came close to a gear up was when I was taking a check ride in a light twin. The instructor in the right seat waited until I was about to touch down, and finally said in his terse manner, "aren't you going to put the gear down"? Well a go around is better than a hole in the ground.

So what can be done to avoid this expensive mistake? Well, very simply have a check list of your own that includes at least: checking the GEAR DOWN three times. Flying VFR in the pattern, on downwind drop the gear as you turn base leg. Audibly say GEAR DOWN as you check for the gear down lights. I used to enjoy saying "Three In the Green" as if a military pilot. Then again as you turn final check for the lights and say "GEAR DOWN".
And one final time just before touching down, check for the lights and say "GEAR DOWN".
On an INSTRUMENT approach you can still do the gear check three times. One at the start of the final segment such as at the outer marker, then at minimums, and finally at the flare.

If you do this religiously you will not appear on the FAA website as another "landed gear up".

Happy Safe Landings!