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Bad Weather, Good Approach

'ATIS Information Bravo, 1150Z: Sky condition 300 overcast, visibility one and one-half miles, light rain and mist...''ATIS Information Bravo, 1150Z: Sky condition 300 overcast, visibility one and one-half miles, light rain and mist. Wind is calm. Temperature 13, dewpoint 12, altimeter 29.93. ILS Runway 20 in use, aircraft landing and departing Runway 20. Advise on initial contact you have Information Bravo….'

Great. The weather stinks and there just seems to be so much information on the approach chart. How can you be sure you have the information you need to safely fly the procedure? How can you concentrate on physically flying the approach if you have to refer to the approach plate? What if you have to miss the approach?

If you’re a good pilot, some of your best flying takes place before you take off. Anticipate the procedures you may use, and get familiar with:

  • the names and locations of fixes on the chart;
  • terrain and obstructions in the terminal area;
  • frequencies to tune for the approach and, if needed, the missed approach procedure;
  • the general headings to expect for the transition, the approach, the missed; and
  • all the notes that apply to the approach -- sometimes the information in the notes will radically change the way you have to fly it.

Enroute, look over the plate and, using an Approach Checklist, set up for the procedure. Do *not* read the plate 'cold' in the cockpit -- you never know if turbulence or workload might prevent you from doing it well or doing it right ... or doing it at all.

Inbound on the approach, you should already have the basics in mind. From the Final Approach Fix (FAF) inbound, you only really need the ADM to safely fly the procedure:

  • A Altitude: What is the Decision Height (DH) or Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) for the procedure as you’ll fly it today (as modified by notes)
  • D Distance: What is the distance to the missed approach point (in time or DME)
  • M Missed: What is the first part of the missed approach procedure. What is your initial heading? To what altitude will you climb? What is your holding fix?
  • Write the ADM information on a 'sticky note' and post it on the instrument panel so it’ll be in your scan. That way, you won’t have to look away from the instruments if you need to refer to the information while maneuvering inside the FAF.
  • Make up an ADM reference card for each possible approach -- before takeoff -- noting any changes based on approach plate notes, NOTAMs, and the like.
  • Before the approach, fine-tune your briefing card as needed, and you’ll have everything you need from the approach plate in a simple, usable format.
Editor's Note:This article originally ran when iPilot was just a baby. Be sure to check the Insider Series Archive for more great stories you may have missed.

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About This Author:
Tom Turner is a widely published author and regular forum speaker at EAA's Oshkosh/Airventure and American Bonanza Society. Tom holds an M.S. in Aviation Safety with an emphasis on pilot training methods and human factors. He has worked as lead instructor at FlightSafety International, developed and conducted flight test profiles for modified aircraft and authored three books including: Cockpit Resource Management: The Private Pilot's Guide and Instrument Flying Handbook (both from McGraw-Hill). His flight experience currently spans 3000 hours with approximately 1800 logged as an instructor. Tom's certificate currently shows ATP MEL with Commercial/Instrument privileges in SEL airplanes.
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