I remember a story of a pilot that had graduated a class or two ahead of us from OV1 (Mohawk) transition in the U.S. Army. This pilot was reported to have had scored a grade of 95 on his Mohawk transition check-ride. It was the highest grade ever given. He reportedly had extensive flying experience prior to joining or being drafted into the Army, so it wasn’t too surprising he did well, but the following story as told by the flight examiner was the interesting reason he earned such a high grade.
“The pilot’s check-ride was flawless,” said the examiner. “He hadn’t even gotten off altitude more than 20 feet the entire flight. About an hour into the flight I finally spotted a flaw. While passing the final approach fix on an ILS precision approach into Pensacola Naval Air Station, the pilot failed to start the timer."
Although an ILS (instrument landing system) provides both horizontal (localizer) and vertical (glideslope) radio beams to follow to DH (Decision Height), it is standard procedure to time your descent from the initial approach fix to help you measure your location relative to the runway in the event your vertical (glideslope) were to fail; thus, allowing you to transition to a localizer approach and continue descending to the MDA (minimum descent altitude).
Typically, the pilot will press the start button on the panel clock to start the timer; however, this pilot had another option. During the pre-flight briefing I had noticed the pilot wearing a flight watch on his right wrist. I asked him if he was left-handed since he was wearing the watch on his right. Instead of answering my question, he said he had just gotten it and was a Sieko Flight watch that had many features he could use while flying.
But he hadn't used it on this approach. Nor did he lean forward and press the timer button on the panel clock. I thought, I’ve got him now!
So, with a silent chuckle, I reached forward and pulled the circuit breaker disengaging the glideslope and causing the red failure flag to appear on the Flight Director next to the glideslope indicator; thus, changing the approach from a precision approach (ILS) to a localizer, or non-precision approach.
I waited for his reaction when he noticed the glideslope had failed. It would quickly dawn on him he had failed to start the stop watch on his wrist or on the panel and therefore would not know how long it had been since he passed the final approach fix; thus, precluding him from continuing to the MDA. His only choice now was to execute a missed approach and go around.
But, he didn’t react. He continued to descend as if nothing had changed. I looked over at his flight director just to make sure the glideslope failure flag had popped up.
The failure flag was definitely showing, so why was he continuing as if nothing had happened? Maybe he realized his error and hated to admit it and declare a missed approach. I don't know, but I couldn't take it anymore, so I finally asked him, "Well, what are you going to do?"
Again, no response.
What the heck was going on? Up to this point, this pilot had not missed a thing. He was on top of every detail. So why is he continuing to descend like nothing is wrong? With no glideslope and no idea of how much time had passed since passing the final approach fix, there was only one option and that was to declare a missed approach and go around.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, I couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out, “When are you going to declare a missed approach?”
“One thousand 34, one thousand 35, don’t bother me, one thousand 36,” said the pilot.
Of course he had not really been timing the descent by counting the seconds, but when he realized he had messed up, he delayed executing a missed approach just so he could mess with me by acting like he had it all under control.
“I was so impressed with how composed he was under pressure, I had to give him an almost perfect grade of 95 on his flight check.”
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