20 March, 2009

What RVR do you need?

When you hear that from Approach or the Tower, you know you're in for a tight approach. Three days ago we heard that...three times.

When we first launched (under exemption 3585, for those who know what that means), the weather was at 1/4 mile visibility in Norfolk, but the TAF showed some chance of improvement right around our ETA. With two alternates, we were able to go...so we went.

It was a great flight down. It was my leg. The weather in New York was perfect, we had a full load of people and bags, N90 gave us a quick climb and we had a quartering tailwind all the way home. ZDC gave us direct the field from about 130nm out. It was a great flight, and we thought we would be in early. Until CA John listened to the ATIS.

Wind 030@14G26, visibility 1/4mi, FG, +RA, VV100ft, 14/13, 30.20

So much for a quick shot in. The best approach we have is the ILS 5, but it requires 1/2mi visibility or 1800RVR. CA John tells the approach controller that we can't accept the approach, and he issues us holding instructions at Salisbury (SBY). We're only about five miles from SBY at the time, so I pull the power to idle and select VOR mode for my HSI. I plug in the frequency in the #2 NAV radio while CA John reads back the holding instructions and sets up the FMS to fly the hold.

We never get that far, though. Just as we pass over SBY, Approach calls and says "I don't know if this helps you guys, but Norfolk reports the RVR is 2200. What RVR do you need?"

The Captain and I look at each other, then down at our approach plates, and then smile. He keys up his mic "1800, we'll take the approach!"

"Roger, flying heading 230, vectors final approach course, contact the final on 118.9. Good landing."

I put the power back in; off we go.

Abeam the airport I slow to 200kts. Then the approach controller calls. "RVR is now 1800. What RVR do you need?"

Here we go.

"1800," CA John replies, "we can still take it!"

I pull the power back again and call for flaps 5, gear down. They give us a turn to 200 and a decent. I ask the captain if we can take one turn to final, and he says sure, then tells approach the same thing. Just past the marker they give us a turn to join the localizer. As the loc comes alive, I ask for flaps 15 and the before landing checklist.

With all our checklists complete, we pick up the glidslope at the marker and start down. Normally we'd use the autopilot for a tight approach like this, but because of ships in the harbor on the approach end of the runway, there is a note that "Autopilot coupled approach NA below 744." By 744 feet, the autopilot has to be off. Because this is going to be a tight approach, I decide (and the Captain agrees) that it's best to hand fly it from this point. I click off the autopilot as approach hands us to the tower.

"Good afternoon," the tower controller says, "winds 360@16, runway 5 RVR is...what RVR do you need?"

"Does matter," the Captain says quickly. "We're inside the marker, we can complete the approach!"

"Roger. Runway 5, you're cleared to land. Runway not in sight from the tower, report on the ground or missed approach."

I pull the power back just a bit more to stabilize at 134kts. "1000 above, on profile" CA John says. A few seconds later "ref and 10, pitch 3, looking good." I see him look up. My fact is planted on the screen in front of me; he focuses almost entirely outside. My world is that localizer and glideslope; I don't even let my eyes drift outside. "100 above." Then silence. I put my thumb on the TOGA button on the power levers and shift my hand a little bit behind them.

"Lights in sight, 12:30" CA John says. I glance outside and see the "Rabbit" lead-in lights shining through the cotton like whiteness. I put my eyes back on the instruments.

"Continue" I say. With the approach lights visible we can continue down to 100 feet above the touchdown zone elevation; that's 126 feet MSL here. I take my eyes off the glide slope for a half second to see the altimeter roll through 150 feet. CA John is silent. I'm ready for the go-around.

"Runway in sight, 12:00!" John says. I flick my eyes outside as the centerline of the runway is just visible through the thick penumbra of fog and rain.

"Landing" is all I have to say in return. I put my eyes back on the instruments.

Something I learned early on in the Beech: there is a transition period when you move from the gauges to the outside world; a half a second where your eyes won't see things correctly, and your brain will be tricked. Fog plays havoc with depth perception. The change in light from inside to out doesn't help either. When you glance outside and see the runway, don't keep looking at it. You will stop descending...guaranteed. Through the haze you will appear much closer to the concrete than you actually are. Go back to the instruments - they won't lie to you. From 100 feet you still have plenty of time. The other pilot has the runway in sight and will alert you if it falls out of view.

One, maybe two seconds later, I look outside again. All the lights of the MALSR system are visible, so is the paint on the center line. I pick up a hint of the PAPI on the left side of the runway - looks like two white two red. Most importantly, I can see the runway edge lights. Only two per side, but that's all I need. I know my speed was pegged, so I don't look inside any more. I focus on the fast approaching runway. I bump the power out, only 1% per side, though; I should land with about 11-13% torque on each engine.

"Ref and 5, pitch 4. Ref and 12, pitch 5" Captain John chants. "Ref and 7, pitch 3. Ref and 3 pitch 6; pitch 5." I push the rudder hard, and shove the aileron in the opposite direction. "Ref and 4, pitch 4." I give the rudder one last push and the yoke one last pull and...

I hear the tire roll onto the runway. Then the spoilers come up. I hate those damn spoilers. They're aptly named. I shove the ailerons hard over, but it doesn't matter, the other main gear comes down of its own accord. Damn spoilers.

Working the rudder to hold the centerline I put the yoke over to its stop and hold the nose off the ground. I pull up on the triggers under the power levers and pull them slowly back into the reverse range. The main struts settle; the wings are no longer flying. We're a ground based vehicle now. I lower the nose wheels until I hear a thud and then stand up on the brakes. The massive carbon composite brakes take forever to warm up, but after about three seconds of standing on them they become effective. Very effective. I put my left foot to the floor and start leading the plane off the highspeed Golf taxiway.

CA John says "my aircraft," and I parrot "your aircraft" as I put my feet on the floor and take my hands away from the yoke and power levers.

With the parking checklist complete, we're done with another day at the office. Back at it tomorrow at 0450, for what will surely be a low RVR takeoff.

Until next time, good night and good luck.


  1. Teller,

    I hate to sound redundant but wow... You have one hell of an ability to tell a story. Thanks

  2. I thought I was riding jump seat! Good job!!