I learnt more about flying from that … from an Australian B737 Captain
“I learnt more about flying from that experience …
We were arriving in Brisbane from the South for runway 19L via the STAR and the RW19L ILS. The weather was a broken cloud base of 3000’, wind southeasterly 15 to 25kt, and intermittent light showers. In short, a standard sort of Brisbane spring mid morning.”
This is the ninth article in a planned occasional series, sharing the most memorable and treasured experiences, not only from my own career : We plan to feature other, highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience.
Here, a great friend and esteemed former colleague – a B737-800 Captain – shares some valuable insights into making approaches in fluctuating, marginal instrument/visual meteorological conditions, that we can all apply to our own life experiences.
“After receiving the current aerodrome automatic terminal information service – ATIS – we briefed for a ‘company low visibility procedures‘, Captain-flown ILS approach. On the left base segment of the standard arrival procedure – STAR – we became visual. We continued with the company low visibility procedures, however on intercepting the instrument landing system – ILS – runway centre line and glideslope, the autopilot was having a hard time managing the gusty crosswind.
As we were in visual contact with the runway, I changed to ‘standard‘ (visual) procedures, disconnected the autopilot, and began hand flying the approach to achieve a smoother ride for our passengers.
Halfway down the ILS I noticed a small, light shower developing to the southeast of the far end of the runway. This moved up towards us, and at approximately the height of the published minima (minimum instrument decision altitude) we flew into it.
The rain on the windshield immediately began to blur our vision, and the PAPI lights started to look a uniform pink colour (neither red nor white). I called for the windscreen wipers, however the rain increased to the point that I felt we were losing the required visibility.
As I went to press the TOGA (take-off/go-around) button to go around, we flew out of the back of the shower. I made a small flight path correction and we landed.
What did I learn?
1. Even very light rain showers can severely reduce visibility.
2. PAPI slope guidance cues can be rendered ineffective during a rain shower. Raw data, – attitude, thrust, and aim point need to be part of the plan.
3. If there is any rain activity anywhere near the airport, stick with the instrument approach rather than switching to a visual approach. That way you are better prepared and more predisposed to the real possibility of executing a missed approach. I had to rapidly re-evaluate our progress twice in a very short period of time.”
The bottom line from this real-world experience is that, having committed to a plan that can cover all contingencies in prevailing marginal circumstances, don’t abandon it for a less-capable alternative.
Furthermore, the effects of light refraction due to the rain on the windscreens should not be under-estimated.
Instrument procedures work fine in both IMC and VMC : Visual procedures are suitable only in VMC.
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