Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I can't see you.....but I know you're there

Most of the time....say around 95% of the time...I shoot a visual approach. Weather is almost always VFR.

There are times when the cloud deck or visibility is low enough to require an ILS. Even then it's normally an ILS to a visual. For example the airport is reporting 1200 OVC but 10SM visibility. I fly down the glide slope and my Captain calls the runway around 1200 feet AGL. From then on it's a visual.

Every now and then the weather is just crappy. Minimums for a normal ILS are 200 foot ceilings and 1/2 mile visibility.

In my 5 years I've only gone down to "real" minimums maybe 3 times. It's just rare that it's that crappy.

Last week on the last turn was one of those times.

Before we left our hub, the destination was reporting 200 foot overcast and 1/4 mile visibility. The previous flight was holding waiting for the weather to improve.

Due to various regulations we could launch and give it a shot. We had two alternates with the second being our departure airport.

My leg.

On the way down we kept checking the weather. Twenty minutes out they were still reporting minimums. The company flight that was holding landed at the destination. Fine.

I briefed the ILS to runway 4. The plane was fully set up.

One thing I was taught (and still teach when I instruct the ATP Regional Jet Course) is to brief the approach off the approach plate, verify the plane is set up (FMS, localizer, RADAR altimeter and such) and then put the plate away. If everything is set up properly there is no need for the approach plate for MOST approaches.

My Captain is a little old school. He clips the plate to his yoke. That would distract me, but different strokes for different folks.

After being handed off to the first approach the controller he advised RVR was down to 1300. We needed 1800. My Captain and I both sighed.

"Is it okay with you if we pull the power back as we can't shoot the approach?" My captain quiried.

"Maintain 280 knots for now, you're leading the pack." the controller replied.

Level at 11,000 feet.


We pulled the ATIS again via ACARS. The ATIS was still reporting mins. No RVR reported.

The next controller stated RVR was 1800,1800,2000. Just enough.

Smooth air. Autopilot on.

Vectored around.

Finally shooting down the glide slope.

With low RVR, low clouds and low visibility it was going to be really tight.

Clearing 300 feet AGL my Captain was silent. He was leaning over in his seat looking for the approach lights.

My eyes was focused on my PFD.

The RADAR altimeter readout is at the base of the artificial horizon.

Passing 250 feet AGL my hands gripped the yoke and thrust levers. My pinky and thumb hovered over the go around buttons.

At 600 feet per minute there was just 5 seconds for him to say "Approach lights in sight, continue". If I heard nothing I would go around.

I inched the thrust levers up and prepared to go around. My right thumb hovered over the autopilot disconnect in case he did call the lights.

He quickly stated "Approach lights in sight continue!" at the same time "Minimums! Minimums!" came through my ears from the GPWS.

I clicked the autopilot off and kept my head down. We had another 10 seconds to descend to 100 feet above touch down zone elevation. He would have to call the runway or we'd be going around.

My eyes were still inside. The RADAR altimeter was still in my scan.

Passing 150 feet....nothing.

Around 120 feet "runway in sight, 12 o'clock." said my Captain.

I looked up and quickly had to refocus from looking just a foot or so away to looking far out to a stream of runway lights.

"Going visual, landing." I stated.

Just 10 seconds later we were on the ground.

That was the tightest approach I have shot to date. My Captain remarked he hasn't had one that close in a long time as well.

The last leg was his. By the time we left clouds came up to 500 AGL and the visibility was 1 SM.

Again that was last week.

Right now I'm on day 2 of a 4 day. Same 4 day from the last two weeks.

Just like the first week, today is a cluster due to weather.

I was supposed to have 4 legs worth 7.5 hours.

My first leg out cancelled. Overnight extended.

Now flying just 3.5 hours.

When looking for an airline it's important to go to one with a good contract. I have a buddy that works for another regional that does not have as good of a contract. If a flight cancels his pay check is docked...even if it's beyond the crews control. I've had over 20 hours of cancelled flights this month. That would be over $850 out of my pocket if I didn't have pay protection for cancelled flights.

Just something to think about.



No comments:

Post a Comment

If you are a spammer....your post will never show up. Move along.