March 2015 Issue

Incomplete Circles

Recent accidents show how an unstabilized circle-to-land maneuver can turn a sure bet into a smoking hole.

Not all approach procedures are aligned with the runway on which we want to land. Once we have it in sight, to get from the procedureís missed approach point (MAP) to the desired runway, we may need to maneuver well within 1000 feet agl in low visibility, and do it at a relatively low airspeed to remain within airspace protected from obstacles. Itís called circling to land, and is one of IFRís red-headed stepchildren: a visual maneuver, with IFR constraints. Sadly, a few of us each year prang airplanes while circling to a runway after an approach. To learn more about how and why, we looked at a collection of recent accidents during circling maneuvers. They all seem to have a few things in common, like banking too steeply in turns and letting the airplane descend too early.

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