Keeping It Up Longer
March 2012 was another great edition. I enjoyed the discussion of the Santa Maria LOC DME (BACK CRS)-A approach (“The Right Time to Descend”), and I was happy to find that I agreed with your legal interpretation. However, I came to a different end conclusion.
I applaud the pilot’s initial decision to ask for the approach in order to avoid terrain, but then to discard that decision based on seeing the VASI and runway is a setup for a classic black-hole CFIT accident. Just because you can see the runway doesn’t mean you can see the terrain. Your fist indication of terrain may be the VASI and runway starting to disappear—and by then it may be too late.
I’ve flown that approach in a Cirrus. The terrain is significant, and while the step-down is high, it is possible to adhere to the minimum altitudes and make a straight-in with a full-flap, idle-power final descent from the step-down. To mitigate the risk of an aggressive descent, I would establish an approach-stable gate and not continue beyond 1000 feet AGL unless I had become established in the VASI or was at least starting to see pink.
In VMC, it would be possible to circle-to-land by flying a normal pattern at pattern altitude, which is much less risky than circling down low at the MDA.
In the tradeoff between risking a black-hole CFIT or risking disorientation flying a normal, night, traffic pattern, I think the pattern is safer, and I would opt to keep the obstacle protection the approach step-down gives me.
I have always believed and taught to fly in the instrument environment per the charts and regs and you will not get hurt. When the guys that approve an instrument approach have established a procedure to be used to safely find the airport in poor weather or night, why do you approve disregarding a step-down fix that was obviously put there to keep the airplane above an obstruction of some kind? At night there are illusions that trap pilots into premature descents.
Once when I was descending into a destination airport at night from over an area of modest-sized mountains I decided that if I could keep the rotating beacon in sight some 30 miles ahead, there could be no high ground between me and the airport. A few minutes after starting a shallow, cruise-power descent I was startled by the light from the green nav light illuminating the tops of trees streaking by under my right wing—beacon still in sight. A prompt pull-up possibly saved my neck. (I was not instrument-rated even though I had over 1500 hours at the time. It was 1956 and an HF transmitter and a low-freq range receiver comprised my “avionics suite.”)
I would not teach or approve disregarding a step-down fix altitude on an instrument approach in “good VFR” at night, period. Fly the approach as published. In the case of Santa Maria, plan a circling approach ahead of time and fly it. Your loved ones will appreciate it and you’ll have a better chance at a long and happy career.
Uh, We Don’t See That VOR …
Gents: Great job with IFR. I never wrote to tell you, but greatly appreciate the magazine. (This from a retired USAF Stan Eval type, furloughed airline, corporate chief pilot and long-time CFI.)
It’s ironic you review Jepp FD in the Mar 2012 issue (“Jepp’s Slow iPad Efforts.”) I recently stumbled on the fact that navaids that the FAA codes as high-altitude are not currently displayed in Jepp FD when the chart selection is set to “Low.” Navaids coded as “low altitude” or “high altitude/low altitude” will be displayed.
In the Dallas Class B, the Cowboy and Ranger stations (CVE and FUZ) are not displayed on the low chart. Maverick (TTT) is displayed, and is not a “low altitude” but if you look at the additional data it shows Maverick as the ending point for low-altitude airways.
To their credit, Jeppesen has taken this for review, but it wouldn’t hurt to have more people ask for the VORTACs to be displayed. I know in the Dallas area, Approach uses all three VORs as reference points for vectoring traffic. Another case I stumbled on is Junior VOR in Alabama.
More Uses For a Compass
Lee Smith writes of testing pitot heat “by turning each system on individually and watching the ammeter rise” (“Ice Equipment Failures,” March 2012 IFR).
There’s no ammeter in my vintage Mooney, just a load meter that shows no perceptible deflection when pitot heat is switched on. I use this technique taught to me during instrument training: The compass will deflect noticeably when the pitot-heat circuit is switched on. I use this as confirmation, both preflight and in flight, that the pitot-heat circuit is drawing amps.
Old Pilots Getting Bold
I enjoyed Jeff’s remarks on recruiting older pilots (“Flight Begins at 40, or Maybe 50,” March 2012 IFR). I began flight training at 56, have owned a Mooney Rocket, and now fly a turbo Cessna 182. I put 76 hours in the air last year at age 73.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Your March editorial struck a chord. As a 52-year-old business owner, I’ve had the time of my life the last 12 years using GA to provide personal fulfillment and build my business. On occasion I’ve thought, “surely there must be others like me who would jump at the chance if they were exposed to it.”
Your editorial has propelled me past the hold-short line. I’m planning to hold a breakfast in my hangar (Aurora Municipal, near Chicago) where pilots can bring friends who fit the demographic you described. We’ll have a couple of people talk about how they use their planes and how one gets started. Afterward, at least a brief intro flight for interested prospects. Perhaps some mentoring relationships will take root.
Thanks for the inspiration … and for a great magazine.
Gregory De Jong,
I’m behind a few issues, but as I am reading “Obstacles on the Visual” (December 2012 IFR), I’m thinking really, I never really knew all that. Being a pilot with around 300 hours and little money to enjoy flying, I’m thinking this could be me flying into anywhere airport.
I can look at the charts to get a better picture of what I could be getting myself into, but what else could I do to help myself out of this dilemma? What about asking ATC for help, with a call saying I’m unfamiliar with the airport and surrounding area? I know as PIC I am supposed to become familiar with all information concerning any flight, but at only around 300 hours I consider myself still a newbie. It seems like a total Catch-22.
Anyway, keep up with the great articles and I’ll try to avoid all the guywires out there.
Asking ATC is a fine idea. So is writing to us at