A low approach, and the lights

[Update: after a night’s rest, I’ve gone back to the approach plate to get the threshold elevation, and have tried to remember the exact reports I gave North Bay radio; as a result, I’ve revised all altitudes up a little.]

On her blog, Aviatrix has been running an interesting series on Canadian runway and approach lighting systems (here’s the first article). Approach lights figured big in my own flying today — after a long and difficult IMC flight, I had planned to take the LOC (BC)/DME 26 approach into North Bay Airport, since the ATIS was reporting a ceiling of about 1,000 feet. Toronto Centre talked to North Bay Radio and decided to vector me the long way around for the ILS 08 instead, because of fog near the end of 26. Then a PIREP (pilot report) came in reporting a 100 foot ceiling.

It took a long time to circle around over Lake Nippising and join the ILS — I had glimpses of the city of North Bay below me, but no airport ahead. At 400 500 ft AGL and almost at the field, I still saw nothing. At 250 or 350 feet AGL (I no longer remember) 430 feet AGL, I saw the approach lights cutting clearly through the fog, but no ground or runway. I knew that in theory it was legal to land seeing only a few approach lights, but it sounded terrifying, and I never imagined I’d try; however, it was actually a fairly simple thing to do, no harder than setting up for a runway, and certainly not stressful, at least not in a slow plane like a Warrior. I lined up with the lights (I’ll admit that they didn’t appear straight ahead of me, since I was drifting and bouncing a lot in the turbulence) and planned to touch down just a bit past them. Somewhere around 50-100 feet 130 feet AGL, just before I crossed the threshold, the runway suddenly popped in below me, and I made a normal (if slightly long) landing.

Aviatrix: they were AN — I don’t think you’ve covered that yet. It’s amazing how they can punch through the fog and let you make a legal (and fairly safe) landing when the ceiling is under just over 100 feet.

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7 Responses to A low approach, and the lights

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  3. Paul Tomblin says:

    Since I’m constantly struggling with the question of when it’s safe to go into clouds in the winter, I’m curious as to the temperature on this flight, and how you decided that the icing potential was low enough to make the flight.

  4. david says:

    It was an unusual situation — that ferocious low-level jet from the south was pulling in extremely warm air, producing record surface temperatures for late November (you must have had them in Rochester as well). The freezing level was well above 10,000 feet, while MEAs for my route were down around 4,000.

  5. Frank says:

    You kook, I’m surprised you went on the flight in that weather. What were your backup plans?

  6. david says:

    The patient’s backup plan was to reschedule the appointment. Originally, I was down for backup in the morning and primary pilot in the afternoon, but nobody else stepped forward, so I agreed to fly both.

    I hope that your twin is back in the air, Frank — you must really appreciate the deicing system this time of year.

  7. Frank says:

    Yup, the Aztec is oop and aboot. The deicing stuff ended up being useful/needed during only short spurts the last few weeks. Its most tangible effect is relative comfort of having it available – not having to chew one’s fingers to the bone watching for minute ice buildup.

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