Wednesday, October 29, 2008

IFR Workload Reduction

Becoming a solid instrument pilot is all about becoming a master at workload management. Picture this. You’re being vectored for an ILS approach, and you’re in the soup (instrument meteorological conditions, “IMC”). ATIS has reported ½ mile visibility with heavy rain, and you hear the controller speaking with other aircraft as they execute their missed approach procedures because the visibility was too poor to land. You can’t see a thing outside your windows except the color of dark grayish rain filled clouds, which are soaking the windows quite nicely. You’re getting knocked around pretty bad in the clouds, and you look out the window and see a thin layer of ice forming on the wing strut.

Sounds like a good time doesn’t it? I guess that all depends on what you consider a “good time,” but let me ask you this. What’s the first thing you should be concentrating on at this point? Let me answer: FLYING THE AIRPLANE. What’s the last thing?? How about fumbling around with approach plates, twisting dials, trying to identify a localizer, trying to brief the approach just before crossing the final approach fix? I’d rather focus 100% of my time making sure I was flying the best approach I could, so I had a good chance of getting the bird on the ground safely.

You absolutely must have every single task completed that you can possibly complete as early as possible when flying IFR, so that when the time comes that the weather turns sour and the stress level starts to rise, you’re prepared mentally to handle it.

What does this mean? For starters, pick up ATIS for your destination airport ASAP. Before takeoff, I put the destination ATIS/ASOS in the COM2 radio so I can listen in as soon as possible. This can literally mean on short IFR hops that right after takeoff I’ve already got the destination ATIS/ASOS while we’re still in the climb. That way, I know what approach to expect, and I can begin studying the approach plate shortly after.

I like to scan the approach plate for my frequencies and the final approach course so I can get that all punched in. After the initial scan and frequencies are set, I conduct a thorough brief of the whole approach, and commit some items to memory. This includes minutes, minimums, and missed. This includes minutes from the FAF to the MAP, DH or MDA, and the missed approach procedure.

For the approach plate itself, make sure you have a technique to hold the approach plate, so it is not a distraction. This can be on your kneeboard, a clipboard on the yoke, etc. Just holding the approach procedure booklet in your lap usually won’t do.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you on your way to reducing your workload as approach time rolls around. The approach is usually the most stressful of the entire flight. Help reduce it, by following this advice. I’d love to hear your comments or suggestions. Feel free to post comments. So long.

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