reply to post by AskTheQuestion
That's why I was responding to the OTHER ATS poster's question.
Your points are all valid, but the fact is the Captain decided to attmept to continue the approach, despite it being below minimums.
As I said, there is a certain arrogance in pilots' attitudes (I know this, because it describes me, too).
That Tu-154M was operated by the Polish Air Force, too. Just as OUR VIP airplanes are flown by USAF.
BUT, the pressure was on him to get there. He took too much risk, maybe overconfident for some reason.
I don't knwo what type of approach they were using, would be helpful if someone can find an IFR approach plate for Smolensk.....then I can tell you
OK, to edit here, I have more info.
Researching it, I can't find actual Airport information, as to the types of facilities it has for instrument approach procedures, but I DID find
articles that tell me all I need to know:
On the face of it, the Smolensk accident has the hallmarks of the classic attempt by pilots to descend below minimum conditions in an attempt to
land in bad visibility. It is being assumed by professionals that the Polish Air Force captain was under heavy pressure to get his plane-load of top
brass to the historic ceremony at Katyn. The desire to land at all costs is known in the trade as "get-there-itis" and pilots are trained to resist
it. But there are unanswered questions.
According to the Russian authorities the crew of the Tu-154M were making a fourth attempt to land. Fog covered the area, but visibility of a few
hundred yards was reported. Standard rules for airlines require crew to give up after two attempts and divert to an alternate destination. If the
Russian report is right, the crew were pushing it. But new reports today suggest that this may have been their first approach after circling the field
three times. They were of course operating under military, not civil airline, conditions.
OK, here's the important bit:
The Smolensk North military airfield lacks an instrument landing system (ILS), the equipment that allows aircraft to descend very low in cloud on
the approach to the runway. A civilian plane at Smolensk would normally be making a "non-precision" instrument approach, based on the "NDB" radio
beacon at the field (it is not equipped with a more precise VOR beacon). This would require that the pilots spot the runway surroundings ahead and
before they descend below a safe minimum height of a few hundred feet. Experts are saying today that a standard non-precision approach in the weather
prevailing at Smolensk would have been unlikely.
The NDB is the absolute WORST, in terms of situational accuracy, of any navigational aid used in aviation. The standards for an instrument approach
based on an NDB as sole navigation are quite restrictive. Especially, minimum visibility required. You MUST be able to see at least what we call the
"landing environment" (the Approach Lighting System, 'ALS', qualifies for we US operators) in order to continue an approach, and to descend below
MDA. PLUS, it is very, very difficult to align visually, with the runway, in poor visibilty. You're moving at around 130-140 knots, remember.
Things happen fast.
This crew decided to "risk it", and sneak down below MDA, in hopes of picking up some visual cues and making it in. Sometimes this is referred to
Article goes on, however:
There is an alternative. The pilots may have been on a military Precision Approach Radar (PAR) -- a method used very rarely in civil aviation. The
Russians have not confirmed that this was the case, but their statements suggest it. With PAR, the pilots are talked down by controllers using very
acurate ground-based radar. The approaching aircraft is kept on the glideslope by verbal instructions -- "high, low, left right" and so on. That
was, for example, how planes landed at Sarajevo in poor weather during the siege in the mid-1990s.
We know that the Russian military controllers were closely monitoring, if not guiding, the approach because they told the Polish crew that they were
descending below the glide-path and advised them to give up, according to officials. The controllers advised them to try another destination, but the
captain has final authority. The airliner hit the trees a kilometre from the runway and slightly north of its normal approach course.
I've never done a real PAR, only in the simulators. Still, even a PAR requires certain minima, in terms of reported visibility. For same reasons
I was trying to find examples of NDB approaches in the US, but most have been decommisioned...with the advent of GPS, it is actually much better, and
becoming more common every day.
[edit on 14 April 2010 by weedwhacker]