IFR Fix: Taming task saturation

July 1, 2013

IFR FixThe pilot was fixated on capturing the inbound course, but that was unlikely with the aircraft almost over the VOR—a frustrating end to a holding pattern marked by failure to correct for a strong crosswind.

Station passage arrives, but is observed belatedly, followed by an irresolute turn outbound.

“How much time are you going to allow for the outbound leg?”

Good question. That’s the last thing on the pilot’s mind as he succumbs to that harried state of mind most politely described as “task saturation.”

Fortunately, this was a session practicing a basic VOR approach in easy conditions for a very rusty pilot. Had it been a real-world flight requiring use of a more complicated approach procedure that adds task saturation by requiring the pilot to use multiple nav systems in combination … well, that’s why we practice.

A LOC/DME procedure in Iowa is a good example of an instrument approach with architectural oddities that can take a pilot out of the comfort zone. Challenging but not overwhelming for someone trained to run a mental checklist such as “the five T’s” at transitional moments on the approach. (To review, the five T’s are commonly rendered as “Turn, time, twist, throttle, talk.” Say them to yourself at every transition, as a reminder to take needed actions.)

The LOC/DME RWY 13 approach to Ottumwa Regional Airport raises the workload by employing separate localizer and DME systems—with an additional catch.

The first thing that strikes you when briefing for the LOC/DME RWY 13 approach is that it combines course guidance from a localizer with DME information from the OTM VOR. A note reminds you that you must be able to receive both simultaneously; be prepared by having that set up on your panel before you arrive at the initial approach fix, RINER.

The catch, advertised in bold words on the plan view, is that the LOC/DME RWY 13 approach is flown on the back course of the Runway 31 localizer.

Navigating with reversed sensing isn’t too daunting if you have practiced the method, but it does add a bit to the workload, possibly slowing responses to needed course corrections.

As your task-saturation rises, nothing maintains your focus and situational awareness like a well-practiced habit pattern. So whether you use the five T’s or another memory aid, train yourself to run the list!