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IFR Fix: A show of handsIFR Fix: A show of hands

There sure are lots of notes on the plate for the JAIKE THREE arrival (RNAV) to New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport.

Notice the fifth of six notes in the lower right section of the plate valid through Aug. 20. It advises crews to notify ATC prior to speed reduction—a detail not to be missed in a frantic terminal environment like Teterboro’s.

An arriving jet crew briefed altitudes and speeds, but missed the note, bringing a scolding from ATC. On the plate they were reading on a mini tablet, "the note is written 'sideways' vertically in the lower right corner," and "is easy to overlook." Also, with the mini-tablet, "you tend to zoom," and view about one-third of the plate.

There also had been an interruption of the cockpit routine during arrival: The autopilot disengaged. "I simply chose to hand-fly the descent and arrival to insure positive control of the airplane," but the glitch reduced time available to review the approach, a crewmember stated in an explanatory filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

Some pilots may hand-fly an RNAV departure purely for pleasure in superior weather. Just maintain your track.  

"I started turning before Capt. adjusted the heading bug," a co-pilot recounted in another ASRS report. "At this time I am looking away from my PFD for a couple of seconds and when I look back at it, my FD and Path Vector were not in agreement, so I got confused."

Conflicting pitch cues were the problem. The aircraft first neared stall, then overspeed, until the captain’s verbal intervention restored order.

"I let my guard down, I was very relaxed and took flying that day too lightly," the co-pilot reflected.

Some prefer automation: A pilot on approach to Minnesota’s Bemidji Regional Airport selected Runway 25 for landing, not Runway 31, to avoid having to hand-fly the approach below a published altitude.

When the aircraft was about 500 feet agl, "airport operations called us on the radio and said that he had not done any preparation to runway 25. He had anticipated us using 31 and had spent all of his time working on that runway."

The result: rolling out on Runway 25 with nil braking action.

As reports show, pilots hold a variety of scenario-based attitudes about hand-flying versus autopilots. Although pilots' motivations for their decisions were clear, the consequences of changing plans can be unpredictable.

Do you prefer to hand fly or use the autopilot? Share your reasoning below.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Instrument Rating, Technique, IFR

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