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IFR Fix: In uncharted territory

Turbulence had knocked out the autopilot as a Cessna Citation’s flight crew prepared for arrival in Naples, Florida. With weather near minimums, the increased workload of hand-flying the approach wasn’t a welcome development.

At such times, a thought runs through a pilot’s mind: "I hope nothing else goes wrong."

Something did: a missed approach, followed by new instructions that rendered the cockpit’s occupants—crewmembers and electronic components alike—unable to comply.

"As we contacted the Approach Controller he issued us a non-published hold—a DME fix on a radial that we were very close to intercepting," one of the pilots reported to the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

"After we cleaned up the airplane, the non-flying pilot went to put the hold into the FMS and the FMS did not accept it. We then asked for delaying vectors while we set up the hold, and decide on our next course of action: the Controller replied negative; proceed to the hold as instructed not offering any explanation as to the refusal. At this point, we were past the hold."

The controller "queried us to the details of our workload but still gave us another uncharted hold," the pilot reported. During the effort to enter the new hold, the pilots made an erroneous turn and ATC pointed it out.

"As we were correcting to the VOR the weather improved and we were given a radar vector to proceed to an initial approach fix for the next approach. This approach was completed with no abnormalities," the crew reported.

Even without the technological, meteorological, and communications distractions this flight experienced, it takes quick work to visualize and precisely fly an unexpected, uncharted holding pattern.

When was the last time you were instructed by a controller, or requested by an instrument flight instructor to fly one? (Many readers may respond, "Never.")

Adding this drill to your next proficiency flight will likely freshen up the proceedings and sharpen your overall situational awareness. Get a head start on the exercise by practicing the visualization part at the kitchen table, absent the turbulence, low weather, balky autopilot, and incommunicative controller confronted by the Citation crew.

Then, when it’s for real, knowing what instructions you should expect to hear will help you digest the details and dodge distraction. See Page 10-10 of the Instrument Flying Handbook, and note the six-point description of how an uncharted-holding clearance is delivered.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: IFR, Technique, Navigation

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