June gloom is here—a time for low ceilings and low visibility due to fog and mist. Here’s a scenario: You arrive at Van Nuys (KVNY) for a two-hour flight to Scottsdale (KSDL). Wind is calm and there’s an overcast ceiling of 600 feet. The ILS 16R is in use, landing and departing 16-L/R.
You complete the before-takeoff checklist and call the tower for the IFR release. But are you really ready for release? Have you thought about your takeoff alternate? That’s takeoff alternate, not your filed alternate. A takeoff alternate is a standard instrument approach procedure (SIAP), either at the departure airport or a different airport, that’s used in case of an emergency. Note that it may be quicker to execute the takeoff alternate approach—even if it’s at another nearby airport—than to return for a procedure at the departure airport.
Let’s use KVNY as an example. Right next door is Burbank (KBUR), which is so close that the localizer for the ILS 08 approach runs across almost midfield of the KVNY aerodrome. The problem at KVNY is that if you took off and for some reason needed to land immediately, SoCal Approach would need to vector you all the way back to the KADIE intersection (the FAF) or, worse, UMBER, which is even farther out. KADIE sits some eight miles north of the runway. Requesting to be brought back to KVNY via the ILS could take as long as 10 minutes. But by using the takeoff alternate, you could be back on the ground and clear of the runway in less than four minutes by diverting to KBUR, your takeoff alternate!
Planning ahead is the key. Many of you are Garmin 430/530 operators, and I have two techniques for loading and activating a takeoff alternate should the need arise.
Technique 1: Two Garmins
This is for operators with two Garmins: either a 430 and 530, or two 430s. If you have only one Garmin or use the G1000, then skip to Technique 2.
On both units, you’ll need to make sure Auto Crossfill is turned off and set to Manual. Next, take your second Garmin, and load it up direct KBUR. Then, using the PROC button, load up the ILS 08, selecting Vectors as the transition. Place the localizer frequency 109.50 in the standby slot on the primary NAV radio.
Once airborne, if you need a takeoff alternate, assuming you had Garmin 2 set to Nav Page 3 (Traffic), you’d simply press the FPL button, then Menu (which would automatically highlight Crossfill), and then ENT ENT. This will crossfill the flight plan from Garmin 2 to Garmin 1. The last step would be to press PROC and choose Activate the Approach. Be sure you transfer the localizer frequency 109.50 from the standby slot to the primary slot on VLOC 1, and set or confirm the approach course.
You’re probably wondering, “Why didn’t he just activate vectors when he originally loaded the procedure, and then crossfill that up?” That will work in this case, but if you’re leaving one small airport, and the takeoff alternate is a nearby field, once you crossfill up from Garmin 2 to Garmin 1, you may be a long way down the road on radar vector when you declare the emergency and tell the controller you want/are going to the IAF of the takeoff alternate. Once the procedure is crossfilled to Garmin 1, by activating the approach, you’re redrawing a present position track to the IAF. If you were using the autopilot, you’d then engage GPSS (GPS steering) to take you there. This stops the aircraft from making a crazy more-than-standard-rate turn to get on course to the fix. Having a set standard procedure you use every time goes a long way. That’s why I always bring up (crossfill bottom to top) my takeoff alternate and then activate it. This way, I know exactly what the plane is going to do, and I’m not dealt any surprises. Trust me, I’m already stressed as it is.
Technique 2: One Garmin
I learned Technique 2 when I used to fly planes with just one Garmin 430. I also use it when flying with the Garmin G1000. We trick the Garmin into loading a different approach from an airport other than our departure airport or destination.
Once you’re done entering your flight plan, press the PROC button. Then highlight and press ENT on Select Approach. Now pay attention: The Garmin thinks you want to load an approach at your destination airport, so it gives you a list of the approaches. Press the CLR button once to cancel the list of approaches at the destination airport. The cursor will flash in the Approach Selection box of the Select Approach page. Turn the big fat knob (I call it the “mover” knob) to the left and move up to the four-letter identifier of the airport. Change the airport name from KSDL to KBUR, and then press ENT. You’ll get a list of approaches at KBUR. Select the ILS 08 using Vectors as the transition; choose to load only. Say “yes” to the GPS guidance disclaimer question by pressing ENT.
Now, if you go to the FPL chapter and scroll through the Active Flight Plan, you’ll see at the bottom that the ILS 08 is loaded. Key word here is “loaded.” Note that the Garmin automatically changes the title of the Active Flight Plan from KVNY/KSDL to KVNY/KBUR. Don’t let this alarm you. You still have all your waypoints to Scottsdale. If you want, you can scroll back up to the top, change the title yourself and then save it.
Be sure to have the I-BUR localizer frequency 109.50 in the standby slot on the primary VLOC or NAV radio. If you were airborne and a situation arose where you needed to use the takeoff alternate, you’d simply press PROC and then choose Activate Approach. Transfer 109.50 from standby to the primary slot on the NAV radio, and confirm the approach course.
Whether you use Technique 1 or 2, I recommend practicing at least three times to get somewhat proficient. When you prepare for takeoff and organize your plates, instead of just having the SID plate ready and available, also pull the takeoff alternate plate. Word of caution: Make sure the weather at your takeoff alternate is above minimums. If the weather is below minimums, then it’s time to find a new takeoff alternate.
A takeoff alternate seems like a lot of work, but in the end, a little bit of planning and preparation can go a long way to flying IFR like the pros.