Instrument Insights Part 4 of 12

Missed Approaches and Holding

April 1, 1998

Making the best of a no-see-um approach and the dreaded hold

Instrument approaches are begun with the intent of following the needles down toward the runway and, sometime before decision height, discovering the shimmering lights of the airport environment beckoning. Most of us — save for those in training and the odd few who commence an approach in conditions that clearly won't result in a landing — never really intend to miss the approach; that is, the optimists in all of us chant a silent mantra, "That runway will show up at some point before DH."

And yet, sometimes it happens. Perhaps the approach has become unstabilized or — let's just say it — was just flat-out poorly flown, and the airplane was not put in a good position for landing. Maybe the weather has just changed rapidly, or the tower, AWOS, or ASOS had old or inaccurate weather information. Regardless, decision height comes, the clock ticks down, and — nothing. No runway, no lights, not even trees.

It is within these fleeting seconds that you must act swiftly, correctly, and with complete assuredness. There's no time on the missed approach to muck about in the cockpit, trying to figure out where to go next. Particularly in a fast, heavy airplane shooting a precision approach to minimums — 200 feet is not a lot of breathing room, and affords no time for hesitancy.

That description makes the missed more melodramatic than it is. Grizzled instrument pilots, seeing the time run out or the altimeter twitch by the magic number, mumble something off-color, jam the throttle home, and begin thinking about alternatives. But for those of us who don't get to shoot as many approaches in real weather as we'd like, to say nothing of getting the rare actual missed, when you're faced with performing the maneuver in anger, it's natural to get an adrenaline charge. So here are some basic guidelines and tips for you occasional cloud flyers desiring a less-traumatic missed.

Plan ahead

Have the missed-approach sequence committed to short-term memory. Some people are verbal learners, who will remember something better if it's spoken first. Great: Talk your way through the missed approach as you tool around on vectors from hell or have some free time staying out of the way of the airliners in the terminal area. Say it out loud and don't worry about the passengers; nonpilots won't understand you anyway.

Others remember better when something is written down. One possibility is to underline or otherwise mark the missed-approach procedures on your plates. Another way is to create a shorthand version and write it on your lapboard's notepad. Some pilots concoct graphics that look like some abbreviated aerobatic routine, with arrows and circles. Still others may just jot down the initial heading, altitude, and fix.

Try different methods and see what works best for you. For many pilots, the simple act of writing the missed down commits it to memory long enough for the information to be useful.

Yet another tactic is to use some of the instruments and dials in the cockpit to serve as memory-joggers. Try using the ADF head's selector card for the initial altitude and move the heading bug on the DG or HSI over to the initial heading.

Make it a good approach

Painfully obvious, but also remarkably true: A good missed approach is easier after a decent, stabilized approach. In fact, a fair number of misses are created by an approach that has gone off track at the end, causing off-scale needle indications or a view at minimums of the smelting plant instead of the runway. If the airplane is in a stable descent, in a stable configuration at decision height, you'll have much less work transitioning to the missed.

Get on with it, then

For pilots of complex airplanes, particularly turbocharged models with engines reputed to be finicky, the missed takes on another, gut-tightening dimension. How do you coddle the engine, now nice and cool from the low-power descent, when the call comes for maximum power? This part is simple — don't worry and cob it. You've got 200 horsepower in that engine (or 300 hp, or 160); use them all. Naturally, no engine should be jammed from low power to maximum thrust with brutal movement of the controls, but you shouldn't dally, either. Smoothly and deliberately run the mixture to full rich, the prop to high rpm, and the throttle to full. Fussier types will be scandalized that the mixture and prop weren't already positioned for the go-around, but, remember, you were not planning to go missed, even though that's what hours of instruction tried to jam into your head.

With diligence, get the engine to full power, being mindful of high density altitude situations in which full rich isn't the best mixture setting and careful to get the carburetor heat turned off, if that applies. At the same time, begin the pitch-up that will eventually give you the best rate-of-climb speed. Those two items first and together: power and pitch.

Next, start working on getting the airplane into the climb configuration. Your first task should be eliminating the big drag producers, like the gear and flaps. Know your airplane on this count. Mooneys, for example, accelerate better if the gear is raised first, then the flaps, in part because the flaps are relatively small. A Cessna 210, on the other hand, has relatively less gear drag, so putting the flaps to the takeoff position should be the first duty. Then, once you've got a positive rate of climb established, get the gear in the wells. Some models, like the Cessna 337, which has a lot of drag induced by the opening of the gear doors, call for waiting on the gear until the airplane is well established in the climb.

In any event, the first few seconds of the missed approach should be free of fiddling with the cowl flaps, tweaking your engine monitor, or popping a new CD into the changer. You won't hurt the engine if you begin the climb with the cowl flaps closed, as long as you remember to get back to power management once you've oriented yourself on the missed. Make a missed-approach checklist if you need to.

Where to next?

It's important to get your ducks in a row in the initial phase of the missed because you'll be busy soon enough. Unless you are shooting an approach in the backwoods, where radar coverage is poor, chances are slim that you'll be doing the entire missed-approach procedure. More likely, you'll get radar vectors to a fix, or all the way around for another shot at the approach. But it pays to be ready for the full missed and the published hold at the end.

The dreaded holding pattern

Few instrument students relish slogging around in the sky, trying to find the right way to enter and maintain that elusive racetrack pattern. Fewer initiated instrument pilots actually have to do them. In the real world of flying in the IFR system, it's more common in most parts of the country to get a vector around the terminal area and instructions to slow down than it is to be cleared for the published hold.

Slow down

Which brings up a useful tactic. If you are on the missed approach and have reached the holding altitude, slow down. Likewise, if it sounds as if you'll be well down the queue for the approach and the weather's looking poor, get the power back and slow the airplane in the terminal area; tell the controller you're going to do this, too, so he's not surprised when your 160-knot airplane begins plodding around at 100 knots. This strategy may buy you enough time that the controller will have mopped up the mess before you arrive, thus keeping you out of the hold.

Sometimes, though, the hold is inevitable, and, with the new IFR regs (see " Instrument Insights: Is Currency Any Easier?" February Pilot), you may even want the hold for currency reasons. If anything, getting into the hold is harder than staying in it, and there are several ways to make the job of getting to the racetrack easier. Three of the "approved" methods — in fact, they are recommendations, because you can legally put yourself in the hold any way you want — are the parallel, teardrop, and direct entries.

Parallel entries have you flying parallel and opposite to the inbound course after crossing the holding fix. Fly this heading for a minute, and then commit a 270-degree turn on the holding side — that'd be a left turn for right-hand patterns — to intercept the inbound course before the fix.

Teardrop entries will have you crossing the fix and turning into the holding pattern on a heading 30 degrees from the outbound heading; you're trying to take a cut toward the outbound leg. Fly a minute and make your 210-degree turn back to the inbound leg.

Direct entries are the most common. Fly to the fix and then make the turn to the outbound heading. Do your minute on the leg and see how it looks coming inbound to tweak your wind-correction angles.

Yeah, but I just can't see it

Two main methods are used to determine how you should enter the hold. One involves using a pencil or imagining a line across the face of the DG or HSI to glean the proper entry. This line crosses the DG horizontally, with the right side tipped up 20 degrees for right-hand patterns, and moved up on the left side for left-hand patterns. The area beneath the line is the direct entry area; in the short piece of the pie you'll have the teardrop area; the third section is the one calling for a parallel entry.

Conversely, you could draw the holding pattern in your notes or right on your en route chart. Draw a line through the inbound course past the fix. Draw a second line that is perpendicular to the first, through the fix, but cocked 20 degrees into the holding pattern. All entries from the holding side of that line that bisects the holding pattern call for a direct entry. Arrivals from the small segment opposite the fix of the holding pattern need a teardrop entry, while the remaining segment recommends a parallel entry. It all sounds much more complicated than it is. Try penciling one of these holding patterns in your notes, or mark up your lapboard with a template showing how it's done. Fly one or two of these in practice and it'll all come clear.

Once established in the hold, it's a matter of managing your speed, cross-track angles for the wind, and fuel consumption — you did arrive at the approach with sufficient fuel reserves, right? Also, listen intently for the progress of the flights ahead of you. Face it, if airliners and corporate jets are trying the approach and missing, it's time for you to reconsider picking up and heading for better conditions. If you can manage the work load, listen on the tower frequency with the second radio to see how well the preceding flights are managing.

Eventually, you'll be released from the purgatory of holding and allowed to try the approach again. If you've done the hold in actual, pat yourself on the back, note the occasion in your logbook, and know that you'll probably not have to do it again for six months.

Tip Sheet

Keeping in touch: Organize your communications so that the tower- or unicom-based frequencies are on one radio, and the approach facilities on another. This way, you'll have the last two approach frequencies already plugged in for the missed. (Or at least one of them if you don't have flip-flop radios.) Of course, it's possible that you'll be turned over to a different controller on the missed at a busy tower airport.

Listen carefully: When you get holding instructions, write them down. "Piper 34D, hold southwest of the Nightmare VOR, 215 radial, right turns, expect further clearance at 2210, time now 1800."

Standard holds: The usual published holding patterns are over VORs or locator outer markers and consist of right-hand turns. Be ready for any of this to change in the system. You may be given a hold at any fix that tickles the controller's fancy. This could be an intersection along an airway defined by two VOR radials, or just a VOR/DME fix.


E-mail the author at marc.cook@aopa.org.