There it is... 3,000 feet below the aircraft. We have a good view of the ridge line that a 727 struck at 270 m.p.h. thirty two years ago while attempting an instrument approach into Dulles International. One can look down at the ridge, then toward the southeast and see the runway; the minds eye will draw the approach path they were following. If you are an airline pilot seeing this, it will make your gut churn. I can imagine the scene in the cockpit as the two pilots and flight engineer prepared the 727 for approach, slowly descending toward the terrain, oblivious to the fact that 92 lives were seconds away from eternity.
The accident was one of those that , every 20 years or so, causes a lot of changes in my industry. New air traffic control procedures and aircraft instrumentation advances were a direct result.
Today, the Virginia weather is beautiful and we have a clear view of the airport. The air mass over the Virginia hills is stable and smooth... Control inputs, from me, are instantly obeyed by the aircraft as it merges with the radio beam delineating the assigned runway. It sounds silly, but I ask the co-pilot, "We are cleared to land on one-nine-right, correct?" He thinks a second,"Yep, one-nine-right" and then points at the runway with his right hand.
I call for landing gear down, flaps to 75% extension, and the landing checklist. Thirty two years ago, the 727 Captain would have made the same request... If only they had made it this far.