Good morning aviation enthusiasts! I understand that in many of my past blogs, I have provided pictures of approach plates for both precision and non-precision instrument approaches. I would like to briefly describe the processes involved in reading and understanding what information approach plates provide to pilots, and how we use it to safely get the wheels back onto the ground. First of all, instrument approaches come in two types: Precision (allows the pilot to fly the aircraft down to a lower set of minimums and providing more wiggle room when the weather minimums are also very low) Non-precision (Minimums are not quite as low as they are on precision approaches, but still allow pilots to make an attempt to land whether it be a straight-in approach, or circling.).
Approach plates are constantly being updated with new information and new editions must be obtained regularly by pilots to ensure the minimums and initial approach fixes haven’t changed or are being affected by NOTAMS. I prefer to get my plates off of the Forefight application on the Ipad Mini mostly due to the fact that when charts expire, I simply delete the old and download the new, saving lots of time and money! The plate that I will be referencing today is the ILS approach into Runway 10R at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, MN. This approach is considered a precision approach and features minimums right down to about two-hundred feet off the ground.
First Step: Find the plate that you plan on using BEFORE you get in the airplane and takeoff so that you aren’t struggling to keep up with the workload and have already briefly glanced at the procedures required during the approach. (Also, setting up some sort of clip or place to hang the approach plate, whether it be a mount for the Ipad or a paperclip, it definitely helps NOT having it in your lap!)
Step Two: Initial brief of the information depicted on the approach plate. Approach plates are always read top-to-bottom and left to right. We start with the localizer frequency and start programming things into the airplane while enroute so that when we get to an initial approach fix we are ready to perform the procedure. Next, enter the approach course into the Localizer/Glideslope for our final approach course towards the runway numbers. Finally, visualize the Runway landing distances, Touchdown Elevation, and Airport Elevation to ensure the altimeter matches up with the airplane’s configuration.
Step Three: Read the notes that are usually listed underneath the very top line, these notes include any NOTAMS, inoperative equipment, alternate minimums if the aircraft isn’t equipped with specific items, and also states alternate minimums for weather requirements. Between the notes column and Missed approach box is the lighting that will be in effect for the specified approach such as runway strobes and center/sideline lighting. (in this case, the lighting is MALSR.) One of the most important things to read off the plate and remember, is the missed approach procedures. These instructions tell us what to do in the event that when we fly the aircraft all the way down to two-hundred feet off the ground and still are stuck inside the clouds. (Something that I always do just to help myself remember the missed instructions is writing them down on a post-it note and sticking it to the dash.)
Step Four: Input all of the frequencies into the COM and NAV radios so that a simple swap over to tower can be done adding less of a shuffle when performing crucial configuration steps controlling the airplane on approach. Tuning the Localizer frequency in this specific case and identifying using the code depicted for that frequency will allow the pilot to verify that they have the proper frequency.
Step Five: Understanding the information depicted on overall approach diagram and what types of procedure turns or initial approach fixes that are available is important so that you know which direction you will start the procedure and generally what steps to take and what headings to expect once being vectored or direct to a specific point in the approach. (A common setup for this approach into RWY 10R is being vectored by ATC to the IAF STUBR) During this step in the plate brief, additional information can be gathered towards any additional NAV aids in the case that something were to fail and a backup is needed.
Step Six: This is one of the most important steps as it is the approach view and list of minimums based on the type of aircraft being flown and the average approach speed being used by that specific aircraft. In the Cessna 172R, we generally use the A column and have a speed somewhere around 90 knots on final. We also look at the diagram located underneath the approach view so that we can see that by the time we get to STUBR (The final approach fix) we MUST be at 2600′ MSL before we start descending down to the listed minimum altitude of 1,105′. We noticed that the TDZE listed on the very top of the chart was 905′, so that leaves us precisely 200′ off the ground giving us PLENTY of time to break out through the clouds given that we have a decent amount of visibility to work with.
Step Seven: Verify that all the information briefed on the chart is accurate and was properly entered into the GPS or Navigational instruments. I always like to include my final approach minimums (1,105′) on the sticky note I made for the missed approach procedure just so that it is one less thing I have to search for and will most likely not forget.
Thanks for reading this blog and look forwards to more of them this week! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add me on facebook or comment on this blog for an answer to the best of my current knowledge.
As always, gnarly crosswinds and safe landings to all!
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