IFR Fix: Next time, write it down

March 8, 2013

ifr fixInbound from BONSS through 2,500 feet, the pilot tweaks the throttle to ensure a level-off at 1,500 feet before reaching the missed approach point on the VOR/DME RWY 15 approach to Griffiss International Airport in New York. The check pilot has not offered any hint as to whether the approach will result in a miss, a circle-to-land maneuver, or—with luck—a full stop and a cup of congratulatory coffee.

Leveled off with time to spare, the pilot is ready for any option. So when the check airman declares with mock concern that it’s too bad we still can’t see anything out there, the pilot, arriving at the 18 DME fix from the Utica VOR, commences a climbing left turn to a 270-degree heading to intercept the 331-degre radial and track it to the holding fix at 29 DME.

Nice work to begin a hands-full kind of missed approach. So the pilot is chagrined to hear the right-seater say, “Too soon. You had two-thirds of a mile to go.”

That’s when it hit the pilot like that first bump you feel upon punching into a cloud that is experiencing vertical development: the notam!

The pilot had read the notam, but while focusing intently on flying the approach, had forgotten its mandate: “CHANGE MAP TO READ: UCA 17.34 DME. WIE UNTIL UFN.”

Perhaps the notam had been crowded out by another one making straight-in minimums unavailable for another approach, the VOR/DME RWY 33 procedure. In any case, obviously it may not be the best idea to leave such details to memory or scribble them down in some obscure corner off your trip log.

The check pilot—let’s say this is an informal familiarization flight for a new-hire instructor, not an FAA checkride—has been enjoying the bumpy ride, and is impressed with the overall performance, including the miss. It was prompt, compliant with the published procedure, promptly reported to ATC, and demonstrated the appropriate single-pilot skills—all in the spirit of the practical test standards.

And, its learning moment had made a good instrument pilot better.

Down in the coffee shop, going over everything with the boss, the new hire eventually gets up the gumption to ask the question that most pilots would have had on the tip of their tongues.

“If this had been a checkride, would I have passed?”