Visual Approach Clearances

Visual Approach clearances

Of all the approach clearances you will hear as a line pilot, "Cleared for the visual" is likely to be the most often received.

How many visual approaches did you do during your primary flight training? Sure, everyone has done traffic patterns, and perhaps a few straight-in landings. What about a visual approach to a runway 10 miles away from 8,000 to 10,000 feet? Not straight-in, either, but from a base leg or downwind?

A simple technique I employ uses aiming points, descent planning, and energy management. Everyone has used aiming points on runways to gauge and manage glide and flight path while on final approach. Simply use this same technique to landmarks along your flight path toward a runway.

A desirable glidepath angle of 3 degrees yields 300 feet of descent per nautical mile (actually 333 feet, yet we will use 300). Imagine then you are on a 5-mile base leg to the runway at 3,000 feet. Visually follow where you expect your flight path to carry you on final, and trace it backwards to your current position. Identify significant landmarks such as a lake, large building, road crossing. Using this technique, select an aiming point around a 3-mile final at approximately 900 feet agl. This is the point where you should plan to be on final, configured for landing, on glidepath and approach speed. Each mile hence, backwards from this point, add 300 feet.

Aim not at the runway, but at the specified aiming points along the path to the runway. Knowing that at each specific point you plan on arriving at 1,500 feet, 1,200 feet, 900 feet, etc. By selecting more points, it is easier to identify and correct any deviations from the desired path. I use the glideslope intercept altitude, or the altitude at which the flight path angle begins. This will be around 5 miles from the approach end of the runway and commences a 3-degree descent to the runway. Exact accuracy isn‘t required; however, being within a few hundred feet of an on-glide indication is still attainable.

To add energy management and configuration to the technique, simply add a target to each aiming point. For example, on a 6-mile base, plan on being configured at 200 knots and approach flaps. On a 4-mile base, gear down, landing flaps, 150 knots. Joining final, approach speed and any final configuration changes.