The nice part about Newark (and New York City) in the morning is ... leaving. AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit has a good day, for once.
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Pick-up times can come awful early when you are laying over in Manhattan and departing out of Newark. Our 6 a.m. departure for Los Angeles from EWR
necessitated a 3:45 a.m. pick-up at the "Mildew Plaza" on 7th Avenue. Our normal pick-up times in Manhattan are an hour and a half before report time, but the early hour allowed a 15-minute exception
to the rule.
Not that I'm complaining. We got in around 11 a.m. yesterday and had a great layover. New York layovers always guarantee good food, things to do and interesting people to watch. Good times; but now my
crew and I are paying the price for our fun as our Golden Touch limo hits every pothole between our hotel and the tunnel.
Some of these potholes have been here since the British occupied the city in the late 1700s. I am sitting in my van seat imagining red-coats cursing the ride in their army wagons.
Spring Has Sprung
I couldn't help but notice that the pigeons were out in full force and that spring had arrived in the city. Damn good thing, too. It has been a long and hard winter for this captain. I think my crews
and I have spent more time in the de-icing area than in the sky.
We've hit more airborne, winter-time bumps than usual and suffered more than our share of mechanicals, missing ground crews, inoperative APUs, and mis-caterings. Maybe the new, warmer season will
smooth things around for our airline in general and this captain in particular.
I usually throw my seniority around and take the right-front seat of the van. I don't have to talk to anybody if I don't want to and it is easier to catch a short nap up in front. The driver never
talks to us. I'm not sure he can, but if he does speak English, he must be in constant amazement about the dumb stuff we say.
The Most Important Layover Skill
One of the most important skills for a new pilot to learn is how to balance and drink a full cup of coffee during a turbulent van ride to the airport in the morning. It isn't as easy as it sounds and
can sometimes be harder than doing a double engine-out landing in a 777. The key to the whole procedure is to maintain a light grip on your cup and let it sway (within reason) with the ride and the
bumps. Timing your sips can be dicey and, because of this, I've ingested almost as much coffee through my nose as my mouth during my career.
Normally, on a very early pick-up such as this, my flight attendants are quiet and somber as they ponder their day and regret staying up late to see that off-Broadway play. Apparently, today wasn't a
My self-imposed exile in the front of the van didn't spare me hearing the summary of my crew's shopping adventure of the previous afternoon. I'm not sure why they shop on trips. I have enough trouble
getting my stuff through security without having to deal with a bag of swag I just bought at Macy's. I was miserably awake now, with no hope of a decent nap, so I was actually glad when my co-pilot
Paul chimed-in from his second-row seat.
"I guess I'll have to start my warm-weather bidding pattern," He said. "I normally bid trips with southern layovers in the winter and northern ones in the warm months. It is about time to stop bidding
Fort Lauderdale trips and start thinking again about Seattle and Boston."
That piqued my interest a little bit. Paul and I share a weird sort of bond that has led us to fly together more than your usual pair of random pilots. No, it isn't like that ... we share the
trait that we bid our trips for good layovers instead of maximum flight time.
Most pilots have the attitude that when they are at work, they ought to be by-gawd working. This leads them to bid trips that are awful in my opinion. They prefer trips to nasty places that arrive at
times of the day that they know are going to be full of thunderstorms, just so they can get the huge delays and gather in more duty- and credit- time.
Paul and I have bid our time so we can arrive at a great layover well before the afternoon thunderstorms fire up. We are normally halfway through a happy hour as the first line of boomers rolls in.
Then, with early morning departures, we can get a few more benefits:
- The airplane is almost always there because it came in the night before. Most afternoon sign-ins are a crap shoot because the inbound airplane is almost never there on time;
- The airplane is ready to fly. Big stations like EWR still have all night maintenance so our chances of having an airplane that isn't broken go way up if we take the first flight out; and
- The passengers aren't very rowdy. You hardly ever have a drunk, out of control passenger when you leave early in the morning. Most of them just want to sleep and are harmless little fuzz-balls
during the flight.
There are various things that make getting an early trip like this really hard to get. First, if you commute -- and most pilots today commute -- you have to go to work the night before and pay for a
hotel room before you begin your trip. Second, almost every airline has a "preferential bid system" that builds trips for you based on your stated preferences and seniority. This makes bidding much
harder than when you could actually see the trips ahead of time. Finally, almost any international rotation to and from Europe begins in the evening, not the morning, and flies most of the night.
Surprise! The FAA Enforces Some Rules!
Our van driver turned his radio up a little when he heard a news snippet that mentioned "grounded airliners." We stopped talking about Calgary layovers for a moment and listened to the first bad news
of the morning. They had grounded the MD-88 fleet again. It wasn't due to a wiring inspection like last time. Our Long Beach Death Tubes were tied to the ground this time due to a hydraulic power-pack
inspection required for the rudder.
The grounding wouldn't affect my 767 crew today, but if they don't clear the grounding up by tomorrow afternoon, half of my flight attendants won't be able to commute home. Also, the terminal at EWR,
instead of being a mess like it usually is, would be more like the last days of Saigon. Passengers would be running around waving pieces of paper over their heads and mewing like scalded kittens.
The CEO Almost Reminisces
I was just about to start telling the group a story about how we used to inspect things before they became illegal but was interrupted by the fact that our van driver had made record time getting us
to the airport and was, even now, maneuvering our crew barge to a sideways parking spot at the curb. We tipped our driver, loaded our various stuff on our pull-along bags and trudged to security and
The drowsy hassles of an early morning pick-up evaporated for me as we climbed out from EWR. We had hit the jackpot of pre-dawn flying this morning. The coffee was hot, my lamb's-wool seat cover was
fairly new and comfortable and we had an airplane with absolutely no maintenance carry-overs.
Paul was flying, which left me to only answer the radio, run the occasional checklist and sip on my hot java as I thought my private, captain thoughts. We had the added early morning advantage of
heading westward -- away from the rising sun. Life was good.
Cleared direct to East Texas VOR, we were now autopilot-controlled and our day got even better near cruise altitude just as the "movie running" illuminated on our overhead panel: We actually got meals
from the back! Getting fed on a domestic flight was almost unheard of, yet here we were eating eggs and other breakfast stuff that was actually heated and on a plate. Could things get any better than
Things Get Better
It turns out they could. A building line of thunderstorms was about 20 miles ahead. I would usually not like this kind of development, but because it was early morning, they weren't all that tall and
mean yet, and the line had sizeable gaps. I asked Paul if I could fly for a while and had him get us a block altitude from ATC. I then had the pleasure of a half hour of hand-flying my favorite
airplane through and around pink-tinged build-ups.
What are working people doing today? I wondered. I complain a lot because I am a captain and it is my nature, but there aren't many people playing around clouds while burning hundreds of gallons of
highly priced jet fuel and getting paid to do it.
Sometimes the joy of flight can overcome the cynicism of the airline world as it has become. These are the times that make me tuck in my white shirt, clip on my black tie and keep showing up at 3:45
a.m. for work.
Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.
A circling approach is a visual game made safer with the right mix of math, estimation and skillful instrument flying.
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Circling at your home airport isn't that tough. Familiar landmarks help establish proper lateral spacing from the runway. Because you know the
landmarks well, you can pick them out from circling altitudes and in low visibility.
Circling to an unfamiliar field in challenging conditions is another story. I was flying the C-130 to a remote radar station known as Tin City on the Alaskan Seward Peninsula. Visibility was two miles
in blowing snow with winds gusting to 20 knots off the Bering Strait. After a tight procedure turn, to avoid Russian airspace, we descended on the NDB signal. At MDA we could see the cliff with the
orange panel reminding us not to land short, but little else.
We couldn't distinguish any local landmarks to circle to the opposite runway. The sky was white with blowing snow. The runway was white except for the panels that marked the touchdown zone. Rooftops
were white and, worse yet, the hills lining the runway on three sides were white and blended into the sky. Without a system to get in the correct position, landing would have required a lot of luck or
a crash response team.
That's Not Right
Once the airport comes into view, the TLAR method -- "That Looks About Right" -- is a tempting way to establish a downwind. The hazard of TLAR is that low visibility or darkness makes the runway
appear farther away. As a result, it's common to choose a downwind too close for a normal base turn.
This is made worse by the typical lower-than-pattern circling altitude. We're used to the view from a 1000-foot AGL, VFR traffic pattern. Placing the runway in the same relative position in the window
at circling altitudes can cut lateral spacing from the runway in half.
The setup is now tight spacing and overshooting the turn to final. The trick is finding an accurate means of placing the airplane one turn diameter away from the runway and then compensating for any
crosswind lurking at MDA.
The Overfly Method
Consider an approach course perpendicular to the runway, such as the GPS-A at Waseca, Minn., (KACQ). The approach is a 223 heading, almost 90-degrees off for a landing on Runway 15.
The simple spacing solution is to turn and overfly the runway in the landing direction, turn 180 degrees to downwind, and then turn 180 degrees to final. The beauty of this maneuver is its simplicity.
The first 180-degree turn puts you exactly one turn diameter away from the runway on downwind. A base turn at the same bank angle and airspeed as the first turn aligns you with the runway for landing.
That is, if there is calm wind.
When winds blow you toward the runway, evaluate the drift when first heading upwind and then correct accordingly on downwind. If more than 30 degrees of bank are required to avoid overshooting final,
a go-around or continued circling at/above MDA for another try may be wise.
For winds that blow you away from the runway, adjust your spacing on the downwind or use a shallower bank turning to final. Adjustments to roll out on the runway centerline should be made as early as
possible in the turn to final. If necessary, fly a base leg for a few seconds and then complete the turn.
Circling to a landing in the opposite direction -- such as I was faced with at Tin City -- can be done with 90-degree turn to crosswind, followed by a 90-degree turn back to the downwind. This s-turn
puts you on downwind one turn diameter from the runway, but such maneuvers, unless well-practiced, can be disorienting.
A better way of establishing one-turn-diameter spacing from the runway is by calculating turn radius for your typical circling true airspeed and bank angle. When your radius of turn is known, you can
skip the step of overflying the runway by just displacing yourself the correct distance from the runway, flying downwind to just past the numbers, and then making a 180-degree turn to final.
You can calculate your no-wind radius of turn ...
turn radius = (KTAS ^2) / (11.26 * TAN (angle of bank))
... or approximate it from a chart. For a preferred bank angle, I like 20 degrees. It gives leeway to safely steepen or lessen the bank during the last 90 degrees of turn to final. A turn at 20
degrees of bank and 100 knots has a radius of 2440 feet or a diameter of 4880 feet.
To use this number when circling to an opposite runway, arrive at the MAP and turn either 30 degrees or 45 degrees from runway heading. Fly until you are one-turn-diameter laterally -- in this case
4880 feet -- from the runway. Now fly downwind until abeam the numbers and make your 20-degree-bank turn to final.
For approaches perpendicular to the runway (the aircraft at right), cross the runway and fly one turn radius away. Then turn 90 degrees. For approaches from the
opposite runway (the aircraft at bottom), turn 45 or 30 degrees and fly 1.5 or two times the turn diameter. Fly a short downwind if needed to get past abeam the numbers and make a 180-degree turn to
final. Adjust your bank angle in the latter part of the turn to roll out on course.
How do you know when you are 4880 feet laterally from the runway? Use GPS (see "Lateral Displacement and GPS" above right) or timing. For 30 degrees, fly a distance twice your turn diameter; in this
case, 9760 feet (1.6 miles). At 100 knots, that's 58 seconds. With runways less than 5000 feet, a better technique is to use a 45-degree turn and fly 1.5 times the turn diameter. Here that's 7320 feet
or 44 seconds. (Technically the multiplier is 1.4, but the difference is usually less than two seconds.) If you misplace your calculator, there's a rule of thumb that says to turn 30-degrees for 60
seconds or 45-degrees for 45 seconds. That's pretty close for 100 knots and 20 degrees of bank.
For approaches perpendicular to the landing runway, cross the runway and fly straight for the distance of one turn radius -- 2440 feet, or roughly 15 seconds in our example -- and then turn 90 degrees
to the downwind to add another turn radius. You're now one turn diameter from the runway and in a good position to turn and land.
The key note with this procedure is that it uses true airspeed, not indicated. In Florida, flying 100 knots on the airspeed indicator may be a diameter of 4880 feet, but in Telluride, Colo., (9078
MSL), your true airspeed is 118 knots and the diameter jumps to 6800 feet -- close to the limits of protected airspace for a Cat. A aircraft (1.3 nm).
Practice these techniques in visual conditions and customize them for your airplane. Find an airspeed and bank-angle combination that gives you the turn diameter you want for your destination.
Making it Simpler
It would be great if you could easily fly a given radius every time, but variation with true airspeed makes that challenging. Estimating your true airspeed is simple and useful. You PFD fliers can
just read it off the display.
Another option is to use the radius chart in reverse to find a bank angle for a desired radius. If you want a 3000 foot radius at 100 knots (TAS) you must fly a bank angle of 16.5 degrees. In
practice, holding just over 15 degrees through the turn should get you close enough. You'll find that a given airspeed, bank angle, and timing works well for most approaches. Again, watch out for
larger radii due to higher true airspeeds at high-altitude airports.
Radius of turn varies with both bank angle and true airspeed. To find your radius of turn, follow the line up from your true airspeed to your desired bank angle and
then move right to find the radius. Double this figure for a 180-degree turn diameter. A standard-rate turn can also be used. At 95 knots (true), a standard-rate turn has a radius of just over 3000
These calculations may seem like a lot of trouble, but their purpose is limiting the TLAR guesswork for the turn to final. Even with a perfect turn to final, remember that low visibility also causes
the illusion that you're high and could lead to a low, dragged-in, approach.
In Tin City's snowstorm, I cleared the cliff with the runway directly below. At 127 knots circling speed, I turned 45 degrees and timed for 51 seconds. With the tailwind, that put me slightly beyond
the threshold, but well within the 1.7-mile, Category-C limit. At the end of 51 seconds, I began a level turn toward final, varying my bank slightly to roll out on final. According to procedure,
descent was initiated when landing was assured. The headwind on final provided a short, but manageable final, with attention to the VVI (VSI) and radar altimeter.
Try it Yourself
My approach to Tin City wasn't the first time that I tried the 45-degree turn and timing technique. Circling in low-visibility, white-out conditions to a short-field landing isn't the time to try
something new. Practice these techniques at a familiar field in good VFR. Try some math and cross-check your performance using the length of intersecting runways or other known ground references.
Refine your techniques for your preferred bank angles and airspeeds. Watch how close you come to the limits of protected airspace. Practice in a variety of wind conditions and learn to compensate
appropriately. Augmenting your visual circling with instrument techniques improves safety and confidence when faced with circling in low visibility conditions at an unfamiliar field.
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