December 2001 Issue

Round and Round

Dropping too low, too soon or too steeply brings down many circling approaches

The circling approach should be the easiest maneuver in an instrument-rated pilotís repertoire of skills.

Itís really just an IFR descent to get beneath the clouds and then a visual approach to the landing runway Ė in essence a VFR pattern, but at roughly half the usual pattern altitude. Yet NTSB data shows that circling approaches account for about 30 accidents per year, most of them fatal. Since 1983 there have been 577 accidents due to circling instrument approaches. A review of the record shows that three major causes stand out: circling below minimums, steep turns to stay within the runway environment, and beginning the final descent before acquiring the proper glide path.


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