2015 hours, 8 nautical miles northeast of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Ceiling 300 feet,
visibility 2 miles in light rain. Winds out of the northwest, 20 knots gusting 30-35 knots.
Atilla 600, twin engine Cessna Citation, is on final approach…
Copilot: “Approach, Atilla 600 final approach fix inbound, three down and locked.”
Approach: “Atilla 600 Roger, continue, advise when you have the runway in sight.”
Pilot: (intercom) Man, this crosswind is kicking my butt.
Copilot: (intercom) No worries, looking good, but you’re starting to drift left.
Pilot: (intercom) Got it, thanks.
Copilot: (intercom) 130 kts, 700 feet, looking good.
Copilot: (intercom) 120 kts, 600 feet, watch your speed.
Pilot: (intercom) Rog. Little power for ya.
Copilot: (intercom): 120 kts, 500 feet, you’re drifting left again.
Pilot: (intercom) Got it, got it.
Copilot: (intercom) Power. 115 kts and slowing, 400 feet.
Pilot: (intercom) Screw this. Let’s try it again. (adding power) Tell ‘em we’re going around.
Copilot: “Approach, Atilla 600 on missed approach, climbing to 1200 feet’, like vectors for
Approach: “Atilla 600 continue climb to 2000 feet runway heading, vectors for the ILS runway
While this example is pretty short and simple, it demonstrates the concept of a “stable approach.” In my attack days flying Harriers, we were responsible for our own butt and the taxpayers’ plane, and we prided ourselves on being able to handle any situation, make any landing, etc. Flying a light transport plane is different; you are responsible for not only yourself and the aircraft, but your crew and passengers as well. Borrowing a page (many pages, actually) from the airline industry, we had stable approach criteria which were meant to take the “I think I can make it” decision out of the pilot’s hands. Instead, we institutionalized our risk management into a procedure that said basically “at a certain point in the approach, if you aren’t flying a stable and acceptable flight path, you go around.”
I bring this up because I see more and more drivers and riders trying to salvage a “bad approach.” That approach might have been to a particular freeway exit, a mall parking lot, or a particular turn lane. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen vehicles dive across multiple lanes of traffic to make an exit, or come to a complete stop in the middle of a surface street because they wanted to make a right turn and but can’t get over due to traffic. And as bad as that is when cagers do it, the consequences of a time/space miscalculation are much more severe for those of us on two wheels. As I told my three teenagers (until they were tired of hearing it) the first rule of driving (or riding) is “Be Predictable.” If the other drivers and riders know what you are doing or are going to do, the chances of you being in an accident decrease dramatically.
Now, that may sound kind of granny-like and applicable only to slow speeds and straight lines. But take some time to watch the next Moto GP or World Superbike Race on TV. Those are the best riders in the world, and do you think they could ride wheel to wheel at triple digit speeds without knowing what the guy next to them is going to do or which line he’s going to take? Do you think the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels can fly wingtip to wingtip if each pilot has to guess what his wingman is going to do next? Predictability, and the resultant smoothness and control, is a requirement of high speeds and precision maneuvering.
So what’s the answer? Well, next time you find yourself out of position and you know you can’t correct it predictably – go around. Take the next exit, go up one block and circle back, readjust your route and continue to your destination (you did do a map study and have a paper back-up just in case, right?). Here in southern California, that will cost you
maybe 5 minutes. I know the folks in the Dakotas and other rural areas are saying “hey city boy, we don’t have exits every mile out here.”; No you don’t, but in rural areas you generally don’t have 4 lanes in each direction with enough traffic to make things dicey. You probably have a much more predictable situation – changing one lane with no traffic in the immediate vicinity. Notice I didn’t say “always go around”;, I said go around when you can’t correct it PREDICTABLY. However, let’s suppose you did go around every time, and maybe that cost you 15 minutes instead of 5. I guarantee you’ll spend more than 15 minutes in physical therapy if you make an abrupt move and lose control, or worse yet, get clipped by an inattentive driver who wasn’t ready for your “watch this”; maneuver.
And remember, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Wait, that’s another rule…