Circle To Land – Danger Will Robinson
Today started out grand. You woke up at 7:30am to finalize your plans for today’s long cross country. You checked weather last night and everything looked like it is going to be a good day, short of maybe winds coming in from a converging high along your route. You grab a Starbuck’s on your way to the airport and spend some time sipping your “joe” while bringing up Foreflight to validate your route, winds aloft, notams, TFR’s, altitudes, and more.
Today is a planned two-leg trip with each leg lasting approx. 3 hrs. You have a fuel stop and a lunch break planned at your midway point. Weather mostly looks good, but you see that the winds aloft have changed considerably since your check from last night. Now you have a forecast 30kt headwind which extends your scheduled 3 hour trip. You start to locate options for a potential second fuel stop. Your plane can carry 6 hours of fuel, but you really don’t want to fly more than 3 hours. No problem, just plan a stop at about 2 hours and then proceed. You also notice that your final destination is showing calm winds, but Instrument Meterological Conditions (IMC) prevail with a temperature of 32C and dewpoint of 32C with ceilings of 200ft and 1/2sm visibility. You make a mental note to be sure on your last leg to check that you have an alternate.
Fast forward and you discover your trip has not been going as planned. You made it to your midpoint destination, but winds were 60kts versus the 30kts forecast and it took you 4 hours. All is still fine, but you may need to add an additional fuel stop and you figure it will put you 2.5 hours behind plan. You also are stuck at your current location because of high density altitude (DA). The airport is over 6,500 MSL and the temperature is 31C. DA calculates to over 9,500ft and you are flying a 180hp non-turbo charged airplane.
You figure it will be several hours before temps drop and the winds die down enough to takeoff again, but you anticipate no problem still making it to your destination tonight. After all, you do have the family reunion you promised your family you would be at tomorrow morning to setup.
Go-No-Go Circle To Land Trip
- Stay the night, fly out in the morning (75%, 3 Votes)
- Go ahead and keep going to your destination but have a good alternate (25%, 1 Votes)
- Plan an alternate to your destination and go there, don't even try your destination tonight (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 4
Now that you have time to kill, you recheck the weather along your route and at your final destination. Winds aloft are looking much better, making another fuel stop unnecessary. Temperatures are coming down and the IMC situation at your destination airport is showing improvement. Conditions are currently reporting 500ft ceilings with 1sm visibility. There is an instrument approach to the airport and you are hopeful that the winds do not require you to do a circle to land at night.
Circle to land is a risky maneuver no matter who you are, unless it is under VFR conditions. Consider that most, if not all, airlines will not even accept a circle to land approach in the US. This should give GA pilots something to really think about. Circle to land approaches contain some of the worst conditions including, but not limited to: Minimum obstruction clearances, circling around visibility points, potential to lose sight of runway and many more critical elements such as airspeed decay while being distracted.
Conditions have finally improved to where you feel comfortable launching on your next and final leg of the trip. It’s not dark yet but you know 20 min after departure you will be single-engine, at night, crossing some of the most hostile terrain in the United States. This leg is going to take you across the Rockies Mountains with MEA’s between 10,000 and 13,000 feet or more. You do have terrain awareness in the plane and you plan to fly airways to your destination.
Some 3 hours later you finally arrive at your destination. It’s extremely dark outside when you pick up the ATIS. 800ft ceilings with 2sm visibility and as luck would have it, the winds are indicating a 10kt tailwind requiring you to circle to land.
By now you are fatigued and hungry, yet somehow you manage to fly the perfect approach. You reach circle to land minimums and start your circle. You are keeping an eye on the runway as you fly downwind, trying to stay as close as you can. You know this is a risky situation and you are intently focusing on the target. Just then you feel a buffet from the plane, you hear the stall horn and glance down to see your airspeed has decayed. What is happening you think, how did I get this slow? You slam the throttle forward to the firewall, the plane starts to bank, you try to correct with the controls and lower the nose, you’re now 500ft and have lost sight of the runway……..
This is of course a hypothetical story, but one all too often read about in NTSB reports. What can we learn from this trip? Where there any indications that you were making bad decisions?
There were a number of signs that should have made you re-think this trip:
A) There was, without a doubt, the opportunity to just stay the night at the mid-point. Sure it would have cost you time, money and delayed you making the family reunion, but I’m sure everyone would have loved to see you arrive late vs not showing up at all.
B) Planning for things to go opposite your flight plan and knowing when to cancel or to not press on.
C) Night Time Circle to Land is just not an option in our book. If you make the decision to press on, go to another airport and rent a car to drive vs risk the chance of having an accident.
go-no-go Circle to Land Final
- I would never accept or plan a Circle to Land at night in IMC (33%, 1 Votes)
- I don't ever do circle to lands, too dangerous. (33%, 1 Votes)
- I perform Circle to Lands during IMC and at Night all the time (33%, 1 Votes)
- I would accept and do a Circle to Land if during the day and it was higher than minimums (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 3