Safety Publications/Articles

Got an answer for everything?

As a flight instructor, it's good to have an answer for everything, at least when an official answer isn't available or doesn't exist.

A student asked how I would approach and land at an unfamiliar nontowered airport at night when no visual glideslope indicator was available. You won't find much written on how to approach an airport under these conditions. And yet, pilots need a plan, even though it might be less safe than, say, a full-blown ILS at a major airport. This is where your experience and creativity come into play, because you will have to produce an answer to your student's question, based on your knowledge and experience.

In this instance, the best way for a pilot to proceed is to study the local airport terrain using the most detailed chart available. Looking at the Airport/Facility Directory and checking for the recommended traffic pattern as well as notes about local terrain is a good next step.

To avoid obstacles on arrival, it's best to plan an arrival over the center of the airport (airport lights activated, of course) at a reasonably high altitude. At that point, the pilot could begin a descent while flying a rectangular traffic pattern profile and not venturing across the non-traffic-pattern side of the runway. He should fly within a half-mile of the runway centerline and threshold at a reasonably slow approach speed. This approach allows a pilot to descend to traffic pattern altitude, from where he can better judge his final pattern descent to the runway.

There won't be an official answer for every question. That doesn't mean the question should go unanswered. Use your knowledge and insight to provide the best answer possible if an official one isn't available.

By Rod Machado

Back to the Index of Instructor Reports