IFR Alternates and Minimums Made Easy

Flight under instrument flight rules (IFR) is largely procedural. There’s little room or tolerance for zany spontaneity; if you love surprises, look elsewhere. But although we fly by the book, when the plot thickens, we do in fact have options (although they’re more like regulatory provisions) for choosing a different ending. Usually, the thickening agent affecting our best-laid plans is weather related.

Filling the Gaps

Efficient in quickly developing pilots, traditional aviation training nonetheless leaves significant knowledge gaps that contribute to the vast majority of aircraft accidents. It’s up to pilots to seek out knowledge to fill those gaps…here are three ways to increase your knowledge and safety.


Most pilots with instrument ratings would probably agree that when it comes to an uneventful passage through haze, gloom, or dark of night and back to Mother Earth, an ILS is a much better deal than a VOR approach. Given a choice between the somewhat more relaxed progression of a non-precision descent profile and the relatively more rapid cross-checking required to remain within the allotted confines of a precision approach path, when the chips (and the ceilings) are down, the precision approach is definitely the better of the two. Until there are many more GPS WAAS approaches besides the few now coming online, for a while yet at least, the odds are that if you have to get down through a layer of low clouds, the bases of which might be as low as 200 feet, you’ll be flying an ILS. (Of course, the PAR or precision approach radar that I wrote about last year also qualifies as a precision approach, but I’ll concentrate on the ILS here.) So what is it that makes an ILS so special?

Non-Precision Approaches

I don't know about you, but you might say that I have an approach/avoidance conflict with some non-precision approaches, in particular with VOR approaches. On the one hand, I like them because they cut me some slack if I'm feeling mellow, the weather isn't too crummy, and the ceilings are still comfortably in the neighborhood of the transition point from three to four digits. Then again, particularly with the VOR approaches for which the navigation facility isn't on the field, the errors can really accumulate if your navigation equipment isn't as precise as it once was, and you don't fly them accurately. When the chips are down (along with the ceilings and visibility), that might just leave you wondering-particularly when you emerge from the clouds and the runway (or even the airport environment) is nowhere in sight.

Trivia Teaser – The Lure of the Straight And Narrow

Question: You experience an engine failure at a fairly charitable altitude (say 4500 feet) during a cross-country flight. There aren't any airports within gliding range, but you immediately see a perfectly straight clearing in the heavily wooded area over which you are flying (which fortunately, appears to be relatively flat) You notice that it continues off into the middle distance, at which point it abruptly changes direction by about 25 degrees and continues again in another long, straight line. Why might you not want to even think about landing there?

PIREPs: Word from Above

I was in the right, front seat of a 1999 A36 Bonanza as we launched on an IFR training mission in northern California. A gloomy overcast had rolled inland off San Francisco Bay and we heard traffic holding overhead when Center gave us our clearance to go. My student, new to the Bonanza, did a superb job of holding attitude as he arced over the now-unseen hills while we turned inland; the holding pilot, now cleared for his approach, asked the Center controller about the weather at our departure airport.