Two Practice Approaches

During training for the instrument rating, we fly most approaches to published minimums. But in real-world IFR flying, the weather is usually well above the visibility (which actually controls) and ceiling required to complete an approach and land.

I recently flew a couple of approaches in VMC (visual meteorological conditions), albeit with light rain reducing visibility. I couldn’t log the approaches for currency, but they were still good opportunities to practice IFR procedures, use the avionics in the A36, and keep my head in the IFR game.

The following videos also show what the runway environment looks like as you approach the decision altitude (DA), first on an RNAV (GPS) approach with LPV minimums, then an ILS.

A Handy Guide to Airport Markings and Lights

You can find information about runway markings and lights in the AIM, but many key details, including the lengths of runway stripes and the dimensions associated with specific types of runway lighting systems, are typically buried technical advisory circulars that are tough for pilots to parse.

Fortunately, FAA has collected valuable information in A Quick Reference to Airfield Standards, available as a PDF.

For example, here’s a table that summarizes markings for a runway served by a precision approach.

Unfortunately, this document does not describe various types of approach lighting systems. For those details, you must still wade through a publication such as JO 6850.2B.

Demonstrating, Teaching, and Practicing Stalls

Debates about how to teach, practice, and demonstrate stalls continue, usually vociferously, after more than century of powered flight. In the U.S., FAA guidance on the topic has evolved to the current standards, described in the Airmen Certification Standards and the references (viz., handbooks and ACs) that expand on the tasks applicants are required to demonstrate.

Airplane Flying Handbook, Figure 4-7
Private Pilot ACS Task VII

Of course, the ACS is not a syllabus–a detailed sequence of lessons that describes the training required for a certificate or rating. The ACS is the guide examiners use during a practical test to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a new piloting privilege. The ACS samples an applicant’s knowledge and skill. It is the final exam, not the course.

The current edition of the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B) includes detailed descriptions of the stall tasks in the ACS for private pilot and commercial pilot applicants. But that guide also offers guidance to flight instructors about how to introduce and teach stall-related skills. For example:

The practice of impending stalls is of particular value in developing the pilot’s sense of feel for executing maneuvers in which maximum airplane performance is required. These maneuvers require flight in which the airplane approaches a stall, but the pilot initiates recovery at the first indication, such as by a stall warning device activation. Impending stalls may be entered and performed in the same attitudes and configurations as the full stalls or other maneuvers described in this chapter. However, instead of allowing the airplane to reach the critical AOA, the pilot must immediately reduce AOA once the stall warning device goes off, if installed, or recognizes other cues such as buffeting. Hold the nose down control input as required to eliminate the stall warning. Then level the wings maintain coordinated flight, and then apply whatever additional power is necessary to return to the desired flightpath. (AFH FAA-H-8083-3B, 4-8)

Unfortunately, many CFIs still introduce stalls by jumping right into demonstrating the power-off and power-on stalls as described in the ACS. Those demos often confuse and frighten students, and as the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook emphasizes, if you’re scared, you can’t learn.

A previous edition of the AFH offered additional, detailed advice about how to introduce stalls:

Usually, the first few practices should include only approaches to stalls, with recovery initiated as soon as the first buffeting or partial loss of control is noted. In this way, the pilot can become familiar with the indications of an approaching stall without actually stalling the airplane. Once the pilot becomes comfortable with this procedure, the airplane should be slowed in such a manner that it stalls in as near a level pitch attitude as is possible. The student pilot must not be allowed to form the impression that in all circumstances, a high pitch attitude is necessary to exceed the critical angle of attack, or that in all circumstances, a level or near level pitch attitude is indicative of a low angle of attack. Recovery should be practiced first without the addition of power, by merely relieving enough back-elevator pressure that the stall is broken and the airplane assumes a normal glide attitude. The instructor should also introduce the student to a secondary stall at this point. Stall recoveries should then be practiced with the addition of power to determine how effective power will be in executing a safe recovery and minimizing altitude loss. (FAA-H-8083-3B, 4-5)

Here’s an example of that technique during a flight with a student in my Extra 300L, a high-performance aerobatic airplane.

I always show pilots the basic stall characteristics of the airplane before we move on to accelerated stalls, incipient spins, and the like.

You can find a series of videos that show stalls and spins at my YouTube channel, here.

If more instructors would follow that advice when introducing slow flight and stalls, perhaps we’d see fewer articles such as Be Afraid of Stalls, that advocate omitting stalls from pilot training, and more pilots would understand how best to avoid the stalls that result in accidents.

The Empty Skies

A friend flying a 747 across the Atlantic from South America to Germany received this message from New York Oceanic control.

Avionics Flow Check

Here’s my latest tip for Pilot Workshops: The Avionics Flow Check.

It’s a simple way to ensure that you’ve configured the avionics before each important phase of flight. The video below shows a before-takeoff avionics flow.

KHQM: RNAV Approach and Landing

I took advantage of a CAVU day in the Pacific Northwest and flew the A36 Bonanza from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle to Hoquiam, WA (KHQM). To practice using the avionics, I flew the RNAV RWY 06 approach in VFR conditions.

Here’s video of the descent, approach, and landing.

Descent and approach to RWY 06 at KHQM

Seattle Scenery

On a short flight from Arlington, WA (KAWO) back to Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle, I enjoyed views of Puget Sound and downtown Seattle. Here are some video highlights.

The Secret of Flight–Dr. Alexander Lippisch

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Catherine Cavagnaro, The University of Iowa has published The Secret of Flight, a series of 14 videos now on YouTube about the science and engineering of flight.

You can read Dr. Cavagnaro’s column about these videos in the November 2019 issue of AOPA Pilot Magazine, here.

Here’s the introduction video:

The host is Dr. Alexander Lippisch, a German scientiest and engineer who was part of Project Paperclip, the effort to bring top German scientists and engineers to the U.S. immediately after WWII.

Cavagnaro is a professor of mathematics, a flight instructor, and a designated pilot examiner. She also writes a monthly column for AOPA Pilot.


Here’s video from a recent IFR proficiency flight in my Beechcraft A36, a 1989 model with updated avionics, including a Garmin G500 PFD/MFD and Garmin GTN 750.

Video of an approach at KSHN

I departed Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle for the quick hop to Sanderson Field in Shelton, WA (KSHN).

The basic route on a VFR chart

This video picks up after Seattle Approach cleared me to HOOME, an IAF for the RNAV (GPS) RWY 23 approach.

My avionics are capable of flying this procedure to LPV (localizer performance with vertical guidance) minimums. In other words, this RNAV (GPS) procedure offers approved vertical guidance–a GPS-derived glidepath. Flying to LPV minimums effectively uses the same techniques as flying an ILS.

Note, however, that this procedure includes two lines of LPV minimums. The decision altitude (DA) for the first line is 523 ft with a visibility requirement of 3/4 sm.

The second LPV line has higher minimums: 667 ft and 1-1/4 sm.

Why the difference? Note the # next to the DA in the first line. It leads you to a note in the description near the top of the chart:

#LPV missed approach requires minimum climb of 244 feet per NM to 1700.

To use the minimums of DA of 523 and 3/4 sm visibility, you must be able to climb at 244 feet per NM during the initial stages of the missed approach. That’s a slightly higher climb gradient than the standard 200 feet per NM.

Note that the climb requirement is for a climb gradient in feet per NM, not a rate of climb in feet per minute. To determine if your aicraft is capable of achieving the required climb gradient, you must check the Climb/Descent Table in the supplement to the Terminal Procedures Publication or calculate the climb gradient that corresponds to your groundspeed and rate of climb when you fly the missed approach portion of the procedure.

In my A36, climbing out at 110 KIAS, with a groundspeed of about 100 KIAS given the headwind component, and an initial (conservative) climb rate of about 600 fpm, my climb gradient is about 300 ft/nm, so I can use the lower DA and visibility when flying this approach.

You can find more videos from this IFR flight at my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.

Aerobatics in a Pretty Sky

Here are clips from a recent aerobatic flight in the Extra 300L. More videos available at my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.