BRIEFING THE INSTRUMENT APPROAcH
By Hugh Davis
Many years ago as a young pilot, I can remember one of my flight instructors telling me that a good approach leads to a good landing. Now, after 40-plus years of flying, I can tell you he was 100-percent correct.
He was probably talking about a visual landing, but you can certainly carry that saying to an instrument approach. When the decision is made to go on a flight, or even if you get assigned a specific route, there should always be some level of planning. Take a look at FAR 91.103. While we are on the ground we will spend a considerable amount of time on the en route phase (direct routing, airways, terrain, weather, and airspace avoidance). However, when we get down to planning the approach, quite often we take a look at the approach book to see if there is an ILS or GPS approach available and then close the book until a few miles from the initial approach fix.
Do you see anything wrong with this picture? As an Aviation Safety Counselor I speak regularly to young pilots, and one of my main themes when talking about cockpit resource management (CRM) and aeronautical decision-making (ADM) is that we must strive to fly not only a lateral line, but a vertical component as well. The NTSB has found that, in some accidents, the aircraft wreckage is on the centerline of the approach path but short of the runway. These accidents indicate a lack of knowledge of the vertical component.
BRIEF IN ADVANCE
To increase your knowledge of the vertical and lateral components of flying, you should start briefing the approach in advance of the flight. Items to consider prior to flight are:
• Types of approaches available;
• Types of approaches flown recently;,
• Weather minimums required;
• Need for additional fuel for the approach or missed approach.
Remember, a good approach makes a good landing. While en route, get the latest weather from data-link or from a flight service station. This will allow you the time to at least eliminate a few approach possibilities. You might have to wait until you can receive the latest ATIS to brief the correct approach, or you might not know which approach will be available until you talk to the approach controller.
Knowing what approaches are available will assist in your decision-making process even if you have to enter a holding pattern, complete a procedure turn, or finesse a DME arc. Of course, getting vectors to the final approach course is so much better.
READ IT ALOUD
Now it is time to brief the approach. Begin with reading the approach from top to bottom. This includes talking to yourself, your right-seat companion, or your trusty copilot. Always start out with the name of the approach and airport and include the date of the approach as well.
The next step would be to confirm the radio frequency. Dial it in at the first possible opportunity and ID it. If out of range, turn up the volume or turn the squelch down so that when the signal does come in range it will remind you to ID it.
Set the course.
Then brief the intercept altitude at the final approach fix.
Note the field elevation.
One of the most important items on the approach plate is the Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA). Before you go any further you must have a clear understanding of this picture. Unless you are established on an airway you must be above the MSA altitude for your sector. If being vectored, question the controller as to the Minimum Vectoring Altitude if it is different from the MSA.
The next step on any approach plate is the Missed Approach Procedure. However, it is important to brief the approach as it is being flown.
As you scan the lateral portion, look for fixes that are close to each other and place yourself on the approach in the approximate position where you will arrive at the course line. In other words, visualize your approach from the direction you are flying, or confirm position on a moving map display
The vertical component is the next step on the approach plate. Brief the step-downs and consider flap and gear configurations along the route to the final fix, keeping in mind that many sleek aircraft have a hard time going down and slowing down. Have a vertical plan by looking at the rate of descent in the airspeed/time box of the Jeppesen charts, or brief the 3-to-1 profile (300 feet of descent for each 1 mile of distance to go). If you don’t have a means to set a reminder for your decision height (DH) or minimum descent altitude (MDA), write your minimums on a yellow sticky sheet and place it near the altimeter.
Now is the time to brief the missed approach. Use your hand to fly it through and also visualize the entire process in your mind. Correlate your hand and eyes so that you can visualize the exact process during the missed-approach procedure.
To be configured short of the final approach fix means to have nav equipment set, flaps and gear set, the landing checklist completed, and maintaining the approach speed so that after the final fix all you have to do is fly the airplane.
As for the landing, all you have to know is that a good approach leads to a good landing.
Hugh Davis is an instructor in the Twin Commander program at FlightSafety International’s Houston Hobby Learning Center.
This article appeared in a previous issue of Flight Levels Update.