September 27, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
You have flown a perfect VOR RWY 6 approach to Montauk Airport at the tip of Long Island, N.Y. That’s especially gratifying given how little flying you have done lately.
Trying not to spike the football with glee, you can’t resist pointing out to Grumpy Instructor how smoothly you transitioned from the Groton VOR, finessed the parallel entry to the holding-pattern procedure turn at MANDE, and nailed the fix inbound on the final approach course.
Now you are descending at 90 knots toward minimums of 660 feet, carefully tracking the 075-degree radial from the Hampton VOR. Estimating a 10-knot headwind component and easterly surface winds, you planned a three-minute, 49-second final approach leg. You are DME-equipped, but you were informed just before the approach by the totally taciturn teacher that it is inoperative.
You also have briefed your deadpan companion that the airport will appear left of center in the windscreen given wind correction and the angle between the course and runway bearing (Does an instructor's grouchy demeanor make you uncomfortable? Share your opinion by commenting below.)
Navigation nailed, situation sized up. Life is good.
It’s noisy, but the dour one in the right seat is murmuring about a notam concerning the approach minimums (VOR OR GPS RWY 6, AMDT 3... S-6 MINIMUMS NA. CIRCLING MDA 680/HAA 673 ALL CATS.) and another updating altimeter-setting procedure (CHANGE "USE BLOCK ISLAND STATE ALTIMETER SETTING" NOTE TO READ: USE GRONTON-NEW LONDON ALTIMETER SETTING; WHEN NOT RECEIVED USE BLOCK ISLAND ALTIMETER SETTING.).
Did you miss something, or is this a pathetic ploy to distract you?
Probably a ruse. But you’ll level off at 680 feet, just in case.
There’s the runway—sooner than expected, and more centered in the windscreen, meaning there’s less surface wind and higher groundspeed. That’s confirmed by your swift progress over the misty coastal scene below.
"Go ahead and land."
What did he just say?
That’s going to take some doing. You have a mere 2,944 feet to work with down there—and here you are, coming over the displaced threshold at 90 knots. You should have prepared by slowing up, running GUMPS, and configuring for a short-field landing once the field was in sight.
He’s smiling over there now, as you know without looking. You can guess what he’s about to say: "An instrument approach isn’t much good if it doesn’t get you on the ground."
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
Spot quiz: What is the METAR/TAF code for smoke?
In the satellite age, it’s still true that the less precision exists for navigation, the more precise the flying must be.
Raw-data aviation remains relevant in one respect: No one ever said that pilots flying raw-data approaches had sacrificed their airmanship on the altar of technology.
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