Pilot's tip of the week

Emergency Return in IMC


Subscriber question:

“I’ve heard people talk about setting up an IFR approach back into the departure airport before takeoff. Is this really necessary?” —Kerry R.


“As a pilot who has experienced quite a few emergencies and abnormals in many hours of flying, I prepare as much as practical for the unplanned events—especially for events during the most dangerous part of every flight: the takeoff.

I’m sure many of us (hopefully all of us) conduct some form of a takeoff briefing that includes actions in case of an engine failure along with an abort point. I take it a few steps further for a takeoff into ceilings of 1000 feet or less.

I have an approach chart ready for a potential return to the airport, and I have that approach loaded into the flight plan of my GPS. Unless I am departing from a really short runway or into a seriously strong wind, I load an approach for the opposite runway (presuming that approach exists). For instance, if I’m departing Runway 21 at my home airport, I’ll load “vectors to final” for the RNAV (GPS) Rwy 03 approach. If I have an emergency shortly after entering the clouds, it’s only two button pushes of my GPS to activate that approach.

The more we can prepare for potential problems, especially ones that arise on takeoff, the better our chances of a good outcome when they happen. Loading an approach back into your departure airport on every IMC departure should be part of that preparation.”

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