Short Final: Low Approach


I heard the following exchange on a beautiful spring day when COVID had grounded almost everyone.

Cherokee 123: “Approach, we are headed down to Okeechobee today and would like to come through the Class Bravo, and I guess we would like flight following, too … (long pause) … oh, and we would like to make one touch‑and‑go at Mike Charlie Oscar on the way.”

I thought to myself, “This is going to be interesting!”

Approach: “Cherokee 123… (long pause) … did you just ask to do a touch‑and‑go at Orlando International Airport.”

Cherokee 123: (Somewhat sheepishly) “Uhhh … yes.”

Approach: “Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh … uhhhhhhh … mmmmmmm … yeah … so, uhhh … that’s not going to happen.”

Cherokee 123: (More sheepishly than before) “Okay.”

Now, to give the controller credit, this exchange followed two minutes later.

Approach: “Cherokee 123, I know we couldn’t get you that touch‑and‑go at Orlando International, but I could get you vectors for a low approach over at the NASA Shuttle Landing Strip … and that’s a pretty cool ride.”

Cherokee 123: (Now enthusiastically) “You can do that??? Yeah, let’s go!”

And … off they went!

John E. Moore, III

Vero Beach, FL

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  1. Once in a while, they DO allow touchdowns there. A few years ago, our Quiet Birdmen group was able to land 30 airplanes there (with prior permission and a ton of paperwork for each). It helped that the local chapter of QBs had 4 astronauts to help make the application.

    I had flown NASA’s Shuttle Training Simulator, only a week after they had launched Columbia on the first orbital mission (they were using Columbia’s flight data and video to update the simulator)-writing up the experience for a magazine. I pulled out my notes, and found that while I could match the approach profile in the King Air, I would be 25 knots short of Columbia’s approach speed due to King Air airframe limitations. I asked for a downwind landing to compensate (after all, there is 15,000 feet of runway to work with!). The tower had us hold until the other aircraft were down, then cleared us as requested. My brother (a non-pilot) captured it with his cell phone. The air was rough, and we initially bounced around a lot. I asked him to move to a position behind me, brace himself, and put the camera alongside my headset. Here’s the video

    Note that initially you can see the entire runway out of the windshield of the King Air–then only the approach end–our rate of descent was 6600 fpm–or about 60 mph vertical descent component–more than half of the speed of a skydiver in freefall. Note the black squares on the runway, 2500′ from the approach end–the designated shuttle touchdown point–that was our touchdown point as well. Tower came back with “say intentions”–I was feeling good about the landing, so I replied “We would like the option!” (taxi to the ramp, touch & go, or take off for another approach), and Tower replied “Cleared as requested”–I did a second approach–the one in the film. No pressure HERE!–100 QB members, 4 astronauts, the NASA facility people that had allowed us to land, and the tower controllers.

  2. When I was stationed at the Navy base in Orlando in the late 70’s I would take friends for rides in the Navy Flying Club 172. Quite often we would fly down to the coast and get permission to fly the length of the Shuttle Landing Strip – and this was before any shuttles were flying.

  3. The likely reason for the declined touch‑and‑go is that trainers (FLBs) are slow, so they tie up approaches for minutes.

    Another reason is that trainers can’t buy much fuel, so airports like Monterey don’t offer the same handling as private jets. “Favorite” tower conversation, “If you taxi in front of (hold up) a jet again, we’ll ban you.”