Every IFR pilot has heard the advice, “Fly the instrument approach plate and you won’t get hurt,” at some point in his or her career, probably many times. But professional pilot Jim Huddleston told AINsafety, “I stopped preaching that advice on the night of July 13, 2008.”
That’s the evening that Huddleston and his co-captain shot the GPS runway 5 approach to Saratoga Springs (5B2), N.Y. Flying that approach by the book almost landed their Learjet 45 in the trees near the approach end of the runway. But how? The weather was ceiling 1,100 feet overcast, visibility 1.5 miles, winds calm and rain.
Huddleston picks up the story. “Before reaching minimums, my co-captain called, ‘Runway in sight, twelve o’clock.’ I responded, ‘Going visual.’ Looking up, I saw the runway dead on at 12 o’clock. Before going visual, all indications on the flight director were centered and exactly where I wanted them. My co-captain called, ‘Ref plus thirteen,’ then immediately called, ‘Trees! Pull up, pull up.’
I simultaneously went to max power and rotated to a 15-degree deck angle,” Huddleston continued. “The aircraft hit a pine tree and, we learned later, cut eight feet off its top. I still had the runway in sight, and after making a quick scan of the panel I replied, ‘We have good gear indication, and pressure is up; I plan on landing.’ My co-captain replied, ‘I concur.’
“I stayed up most of the night, flying the approach over in my mind,” the pilot recalled. “I knew the aircraft was exactly where it should have been on the entire approach. I thought back on how many approaches I had made in my career, approaches such as NDBs [non-directional radio beacons] that required the most skill of all approaches, and never had any problems. Finally, at three o’clock in the morning, I told myself that I had flown the approach as published, and realized it was the approach that had to be flawed.”