Point of No Easy Return

November 23, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

Wonder if this has happened to anyone else? During a recent IMC flight, a last minute clearance spiked the cockpit workload.

The full instrument approach and transition had been programed into our glass cockpit. Approach Control advised to expect vectors for the ILS and upon hearing those magic words it was  back to the procedure menu to activate Vectors To Final. On this particular box that wipes out all the transition and intermediate way points. The Magenta Line to Heaven appeared and life was good:  a 45 degree intercept to a few miles outside the FAF.

The controller was busy and a short while later cleared us direct to an intermediate fix that was on the extended centerline.  Hmm – how to get there? All the intermediate way points had been vaporized. To get back to that way point meant canceling this approach and resetting the full approach. There were only a few miles until final approach intercept.   As the left seat pilot, I cheerfully asked the right seat pilot to solve the problem – A time-honored tradition! (He was senior to me on the aircraft anyway).

First thought was to go into flight plan mode and see if loading the way point would work – but then we’re out of approach mode and about to intercept.

How about pushing the “Undo” soft key that gets you back to where you were – the full approach with all the way points ? Sorry – that is on the next generation unit which hasn’t been delivered yet.

While the short between two headsets was going on,  the aircraft intercepted the final and the co-pilot advised ATC we were crossing the localizer. The controller, who had been busy with other duties, immediately cleared us for the approach and everything ended well with no cross words.

I called the Tracon afterward to see if this  our foul up? They are reviewing the radar tapes to evaluate  – for educational purposes only. It was all very cordial but illustrates one of the transition points between the old way of navigation and the new. Suspect there will multiple revelations on both sides of the Mic.

ATC needs flexibility to deal with dynamic traffic and pilots needs some certainty especially when time is limited. The goal is to get to common  understanding of how the other side lives.

Bruce Landsberg
President, AOPA Foundation

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21 Responses to “Point of No Easy Return”

  1. Paul Makepeace Says:

    This seems to be a quirk of the Garmin 430 and G1000. Experience seems to suggest never actually activating the approach (just load it) and never use the “Vectors” option, but rather a specific fix further back from the FAF. That way you’re in a position to “Select Approach” (to a new one; PROC button) if it changes completely or Direct To any fix at will (FPL) if it changes last minute.

  2. Jason Ensminger Says:

    Here is your answer. Read IFR magazine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1P0RIiaylQ

  3. Jack Says:

    I agree with Paul. I fly with a GNS-80 box. We hardly ever use the “Vectors to Final” option and instead activate an approach with the most appropriate IAF for our present position.

    If you’re on Vectors to Final, you’re flying headings based on what ATC tells you not what the GPS is telling you, so having the magenta line extended out to the IAF’s in your area is quite helpful for situational awareness and for that one out of ten times that ATC switches from Vectors to telling you to go direct to a fix.

    Does the 430 not let you do that?

  4. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Good suggestions – all. As I’ve often said – I’m a 6,000 hour student pilot. ( is that a record? )

  5. John Hey Says:

    Proobably no problem if you just leave the full approach loaded and activated and just hand fly to what ever point they give you. But if like me you love the GPSS help then rather than fly the full approach and procedure turn/hold you will just deactivate the GPSS and hand fly like the old days.

  6. Gerard Says:

    Woe is the unfortunate pilot with the glass cockpit…
    Pardon my naiveté, but am I to understand that it is not possible to fly an ILS approach without having it active in the GPS of your glass cockpit? Since when is GPS required equipment for an ILS approach?

    My poking aside, I agree dealing with last minute changes can be taxing when using a GPS.

  7. Stacy Sherman Says:

    After reading Max Trescott’s GPS/WAAS instrument guide, I agree with the previous statements. He also suggests selecting one of the IAFs and only loading, never activating the approach.

    When you select vectors, you only get the FAF and you can’t use the GPS to navigate to any other waypoint. I can’t remember what activating the approach does but loading the approach without activating it doesn’t change anything.

    If you select an IAF and you get vectors, you can still go direct to any waypoint ATC gives you or activate that leg to get there. You can’t do that if you select vectors to final.

    To answer Gerard: You don’t need a GPS to fly the ILS but since they were probably /G, the controller gave them a waypoint and assumed they could just tell the GPS to take them there. So, they needed the GPS to fly to the fix, not necessarily to fly the ILS.

  8. Welles Murphey Says:

    Bruce. If you get to an summit try Max Trescott seminars (Standing room only) It’s complicated but he does a great job and with the other commets NEVER ACTIVATE is his view. His seminar is the second best one at the summit. Yours of course is # 1

  9. Lee Simkins Says:

    There is no reason why any of the “GPS boxes” we fly could not be (re) designed to show the extended magenta centerlline, and still display fixes and waypoints that are not active; and it would not be major effort to allow any of the more likely and nearer waypoints to appear in the “direct to” list, if it is necessary to head to an intermediate waypoint. I frankly do not understand why the systems we fly with are as limited as they are.

    As a results, I almost never select “vectors”, but rather leave a full approach active so to have more options (and more information on the screen) readily available.

    Let’s hope future Garmin (and other) systems are improved for future pilots.

  10. Chuck Malek Says:

    This is only an operational idiosyncrasy peculiar to the GN430, GN530, and the G1000 systems. When getting radar vectors to an FAF, I have my students select the most appropriate IAF and activate the approach. Then, go into the Flight Plan page and select Direct To the FAF. This way, when ATC issues a further improvement in the clearance specifying vectors to a waypoint earlier than the FAF, all waypoints are there in the flight plan page, and during the approach, it is a simple matter to select Direct To on an earlier waypoint, up to and including the IAF.

  11. Gene Says:

    I had this happen on a localizer appproach to KRMN. I was vectored across the localizer due to restricted airspace.I used the gps nearest page to track to the intersection assigned by approach control to intercept the localizer. Approach was uneventful after that.

  12. Jerry Kaidor Says:

    Yes, VTF ( Vectors To Final ) is pretty much taboo when flying GPS approaches on the 430 etc. The controller will almost always send you to a fix outside the FAF. Whups, it’s gone away! So with a GPS approach, you always select a sub-approach which is complete.

    As for what to do after you make the mistake – I’d just fess up and ask for a vector
    to the waypoint that they want. Chances are, it’s on the extended centerline anyway. And there just isn’t time to mess with the box during an approach!

    I only use VTF when flying an overlay approach ( ILS etc ) .

    – Jerry Kaidor

  13. James McCormick Says:

    Activate the OBS on the gps and activate it, then enter “vectors to final” but not activate it until you are certain Approach will not change your clearance. That way you already have an idea where the localizer is and the flight plan is still active and a “direct to” is still in the GPS. When you are cleared to the localizer let the AP take you to the OBS and then switch modes.

  14. Marc Greenstein Says:

    When the altered clearance was received, I would respond, “UNABLE. Flight plan no longer has that waypoint. Request vectors to delay or an assigned heading.”
    In my opinion,this immediately gives the controller a “heads-up” and is the safest option for all parties.

  15. James dorman Says:

    selected vectors and being aware of my position push center for vectors

  16. Marshall Collins Says:

    It’s to bad that the most simple solution was not presented to the readers of this article especially low time IFR pilots who would have much to learn from it. A simple, “Unable” response from the pilot would have started a dialog with ATC that both sides would have found beneficial. The FAR’s state that if a pilot is unable to comply with ATC instructions they are to notify ATC as soon as possible.

    Marshall Collins CFII
    Clover Park Technical College
    Lakewood Washington

  17. Keith VanLierop Says:

    “Skyhawk xxxxx proceed direct zzzzz, proceed inbound on the approach”
    “Skyhawk xxxxx, can I get a heading for zzzzz?”
    “Skyhawk xxxxx fly heading 340, intercept final, track inbound”

    Problem solved.

    GPS navigation is an awesome tool, but I agree with all above – don’t put the cart ahead of the horse. The easiest solution to any problem is not always button-pushing… ATC is there to HELP. Use ‘em.

    While I’d agree that any instruction using Garmin navigators should address the proper use of (and improper use of) the VTF option, the fact remains that we have to be ready and able to step outside the box to fix the problem. Lets face it, even those of use who have lots of hours teaching complex avionics (Garmin or not) make an error from time to time. Teaching good ADM to help solve these problems makes good pilots, not just good button-pushers.

  18. Lloyd Says:

    Unrelated to the ILS, but to couple the auto pilot, does glide slope intercept on a G1000 RNAV approach require activating the approach?

  19. Doug Campbell Says:

    Nearest / Waypoint will likely show the desired fix?

  20. Kevin Collins Says:

    Here’s my story. I was inbound to PAO and hand-flying vectors in preparation for the GPS 31 approach, which I had loaded and activated from the nearest IAF. ATC then cleared me direct to an intermediate fix (DOCAL) between that IAF and the FAF. I considered using the 430′s display to vector myself to that fix and proceed without any reprogramming, but I wasn’t comfortable with the lack of course guidance. I had DOCAL on the active flight plan, but despite my familiarity with the 430 I didn’t know how to go directly to it. So, I punched in Direct To DOCAL. When I got close to the fix, I entered Direct To PAO, started the turn to intercept the new course, and then selected/activated the approach from the IAF. It was definitely a workload spike, but I intermingled the knobology with the stick and rudder stuff which made it very manageable for me. The stable air and light winds were also on my side.

    Since then, I’ve become more comfortable with editing the active flight plan. I will also give a lot of thought to the ideas described above.

  21. Robert Says:

    Given expect vectors ILS and direct-to an IF, it should be reasonable to navigate by DME or the radial identifying the IF. Then work the knobs and get clarification as needed.

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