Alphabet Challenge Leg 4: KDLO to KEMT

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Joined: Fri Jun 17, 2016 2:45 pm

Alphabet Challenge Leg 4: KDLO to KEMT

Post by Pylet »

PEAware flight URL:

I've recently transitioned to a Cirrus SR22T with G1000 avionics in real life and the ink is still relatively fresh on my Instrument rating. So, for practice and proficiency purposes, I've been using PilotEdge and recently stumbled upon the Alphabet challenge.

This flight started off just like any other. Non-towered IFR clearance received, hold for release, was #1 for departure, cleared to depart and got off a few minutes later. The entire flight was uneventful - climb and maintain 11,000 and fly the PMD.ZIGGY5 arrival. No sweat! I chose the VOR or GPS-A approach as the IAF was along my route of flight and I knew I'd receive vectors to the final approach course.

I popped out of the clouds (I always set my sim weather to minimums at the destination airport to log the approach in my logbook for proficiency) and the airport was directly ahead of me. There's never a better feeling than ending up right where you should be! I was cleared to circle to land for Runway 19 east of the field (I was approaching from the east with a southwest heading).

I began the circle for downwind entry to the left, reported beginning the circle with El Monte tower, and was cleared to land. Upon paralleling the runway I rolled out of the turn and...OH SHOOT! I'M HEADING SOUTH! I had momentarily lost situational awareness and, instead of entering a left downwind for Runway 19, I entered a right downwind for Runway 1. Just as I was about to key the mic and admit my mistake the controller (who was none other than Keith Smith himself) called me: "Cirrs 422LW, uh, you're heading about 190 currently. Say intentions?" I confessed my mistake and began executing the missed approach procedure. The controller came back and gave me the option to make a 180-degree turn to the right to enter a right downwind for 19. I accepted his generous offer, completed the 180 turn, and landed uneventfully.

In IMC, it's vitally important that pilots maintain situational awareness at all times. Circle to land procedures are, frankly, difficult and pose significant risk: a pilot has the cloud cover above and the ground below and usually very little room in between. Most GA accidents occur while maneuvering low and slow - exactly as I was in this situation. In real life, the last thing a pilot wants to do is circle the wrong way after breaking out of the clouds. Even though I was on a simulator the mistake was extremely distracting and unnerving. Thoughts of "uh oh, I'm in trouble", "call Tower now!", "should I execute the missed approach now?", "wait, which way do I need to turn on the missed approach procedure?!", "what altitude do I need to climb?", "I remember seeing high terrain over there...", "Am I high enough to pull the chute if I need?" were just some of the thoughts running through my mind. With hindsight, while I had already determined my position relative to the airport, I didn't glance again at the HSI to figure out which way I needed to circle. I knew that 190 was to the left well before even beginning the approach procedure. When I got to minimums, I should've checked again to realize that a RIGHT turn was needed because it was 180-degrees away from my heading on final approach.

This example of my mistake is as good of a reason for practice on a simulator as I can imagine. Luckily, the mistake was easily correctable and I never lost contact with the runway. Also, there was no other traffic near the airport. Suppose in real life there was traffic entering a downwind behind me? I just turned directly into that pilot's flight path. Or, perhaps it would've played out exactly like it did. Either way, I'd definitely be filing a NASA report.

Happy flying!
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