August 2008 Issue

Coming Up Short of The Runway

There’s really no excuse for landing short of the runway after an ILS. Once you break out, just hold what you’ve got.

It’s morbidly fascinating to look at landing accidents involving pilots who came to grief while shooting an ILS in instrument weather. By contrast, VFR landing accidents tend to involve loss of control after landing, usually a result of too much speed at touchdown. Few VFR landing accidents involve crashing short of the runway itself. Yet, when actual IFR weather moves in and the airplane is on the ILS, the converse occurs, and suddenly pilots develop a proclivity for crashing before ever getting to the runway. As would be expected because an airplane is going far faster prior to the time it touches down than when it is when rolling out, landing accidents when flying the ILS in IFR conditions are more often fatal than landing accidents when flying VFR. The instrument landing system has been around for over a half century. In its own way, it is instrument flying’s simple and reliable old boot; the two-needle, three-dimensional approach system that funnels one to a touchdown spot about 1500 feet down a comfortingly long runway. With a time-proven design that guides arriving aircraft over the runway threshold at a safe 50 feet or so, how come so many GA pilots find a way to depart from the friendly confines of the ILS arrival cone and smack into the planet before getting to the runway? Why are so very few GA ILS accidents in IFR of the sort where the airplane overshot the touchdown point and went off the end of the runway as is expected in VFR conditions?

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