Flying Visual Approaches with Glass

Suppose you are IFR en route to Pierre, SD (KPIR) about 20 miles east of the airport, westbound along V26, level at 8000.

By the way, the city/airport name is pronounced PEER, as in “to look narrowly or curiously,”* not like the French name Pierre.

*Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “peer,” accessed August 30, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peer.

You report the airport in sight and receive the following clearance from ATC:

N1234, join final at least 3 miles from the airport above 3000, cleared visual approach runway 31.

The airplane you’re flying is equipped with glass–a PFD and a GPS navigator with a moving map, such as a Garmin G500 Txi and GTN 750.

How can you easily comply with that clearance?

You may be tempted to create a user waypoint in the GTN to help you plan the descent and to ensure that you join final just outside 3 nm from the runway 31 threshold. But that process could be distracting, especially if you don’t often create waypoints. To help you line up with the runway, you could also load one of the instrument approaches to runway 31 or, in newer systems such as the GTN series, load the appropriate visual approach.

Visual approach RWY31 at KPIR loaded in the GTN 750.

Those options, while good operating techniques, don’t directly help you comply with your clearance, and trying to create a user waypoint as you begin a descent to land could distract from you more important tasks, such as watching for traffic and completing cockpit flows and checklists.

Instead, you can use information directly in front of you on the PFD and MFD–specifically, the Nav Range Ring that appears on the moving map, and the Selected Altitude Range Arc–to help you fly the visual approach as cleared.

The Nav Range Ring (white) and Selected Altitude Range Arc (cyan) displayed on the GTN 750 map.

Simple mental arithmetic reveals that you need to lose 5000 ft to reach 3000. At 500 fpm, the descent will require 10 minutes.

If your ground speed is 120 knots in the descent, you’ll cover 20 nm in that time. At 150 knots, you’d travel 25 nm in the same 10 minutes. So, in a typical piston single, you’ll want to start down 20-25 nm from the airport.

In other words, you need to begin the descent when you accept the clearance.

The Nav Range Ring, which scales automatically as you adjust the map range, provides a quick, constantly updated, visual confirmation of your distance from the airport, regardless of the current GPS waypoint, as you turn to set up to join the final for runway 31. You can make small heading changes to ensure that you turn northwest at least 3 miles from the runway.

When you begin the descent, the cyan (blue) Selected Altitude Range Arc on both the G500 TXi and GTN 750 map shows where you’ll reach 3000 as set by the altitude bug. You can adjust heading, rate of descent, and speed to ensure that you don’t go below 3000 until you turn final.

Even if you don’t have a PFD with an altitude bug, you can still use the range ring to help you plan the descent. You can always see your distance from the airport on the map, and with that information, adjust your rate of descent, heading, and speed as necessary to comply with the clearance.

Some pilots find the Nav Range Ring distracting, but it’s often useful in both VFR and IFR operations. GPS navigators directly provide distance information only to the next waypoint in the current flight plan. If you want to pick up flight following, offer a PIREP, or quickly estimate your position relative to a point that lies ahead, is offset from, or even behind your current location, the range ring provides a quick, visual measurement of your distance and bearing to any feature on the map.

Changes to Profile View for NPA

The July 16, 2020 edition of the Aeronautical Chart User’s Guide notes a change being made to profile views for non-precision approaches, based on a discussion at the Aeronautical Charting Meeting (see topic 19-02-342 Depiction of Profile Procedure Track for NPA Procedures (PDF) and the minutes of the ACM meeting in October 2019).

From the ACG:

TERMINAL PROCEDURE PUBLICATION (TPP)

Clarification of the profile procedure track depiction for non-precision approach procedures.

Clarification of the 34:1 surface clear stipple symbol depiction in the profile…

Non-Precision Approaches
On non-precision approaches, the final segment begins at the Final Approach Fix (FAF) which is identified with the Maltese cross symbol. When no FAF is depicted, the final approach point is the point at which the aircraft is established inbound on the final approach course. Stepdown fixes may also be provided between the FAF and the airport for authorizing a lower minimum descent angle (MDA) and are depicted with the fix or facility name and a dashed line. On non-precision only approach procedures, the approach track descends to the MDA or VDP point, thence horizontally to the missed approach point. [Emphasis added]

From the ACM minutes:

Krystle Kime, FAA/AJV-A222, briefed the new recommendation. Krystle explained how guidance in the Interagency Air Committee (IAC) Specifications predates new rules that have been implemented in flight procedures with regard to the depiction of the profile for Non-Precision Approach (NPA) procedures.

Current specifications require that such procedures be charted with a horizontal “level-off” segment from the Visual Decent Point (VDP) or Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) when a VDP is published or, if the VDP is not published, but the angle/threshold crossing height (TCH) is published. Due to changes in criteria, there are now situations where flight inspection has directed the removal of the angle/TCH and VDP because the visual segment is not clear of obstacles. In such cases, Terminal Charting is depicting a continuous descent to the threshold. This seem counterintuitive since a continuous descent could imply that the segment is clear of obstacles. Krystle is recommending that the specification be revised for all NPA straight-in procedures to ensure the profile depicts a horizontal level-off segment.

John Barry, FAA/AIR-6B1, asked why the VDPs are being removed from the charts. Dale Courtney, FAA/AJW292, stated that a VDP comes off a chart as a result of a flight inspection determination. Its removal is either because of obstacles in the visual segment or 20:1 penetrations at night.

There was audience concurrence for moving forward with IAC specification changes, as outlined by Krystle, in support of this proposal.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and ForeFlight

Sporty’s iPad Pilot News has a helpful article about how to connect the new FS2020 to ForeFlight. (You can also find details about using iPads with other PC-based simulations and some ATDs at iPad Pilot News here.)

The process involves using a small utility called Flight Events Client, ensuring that both your iPad and the computer running FS2020 are on the same wifi network, and selecting Flight Events Client as a device in ForeFlight. I have not tested the utility with other EFB apps such as Garmin Pilot.

My tests so far indicate the utility works well, although I did notice that my virtual airplane made occasional jumps into hyperspace before returning to the correct place on the ForeFlight map.

For my initial assessment of using FS2020 to complement flight training and proficiency, see Flight Simulator 2020: First Impressions.

Basic Attitude Flying: A Demonstration

Pilots–especially instrument pilots–need to understand and be able to apply a basic principle of aircraft performance and control. It’s a simple equation: Pitch+Power-Configuration=Performance. Instructors often refer to that relationship when they talk about “the numbers” for flying an airplane in various situations, such as during the initial phase of an approach or while tracking a ILS glideslope or GPS-derived glidepath.

The key to solving that equation is knowing that when you (1) set the aircraft pitch attitude (at, above, or below the horizon line); (2) adjust power (MP and/or RPM) to a specific value; and (3) configure the airplane (flaps UP or at specific setting; landing gear UP or DOWN); the airplane will stabilize at a specific speed and will either maintain level flight or descend or climb at given rate.

This short video shows a demonstration that I do with IFR students to help them appreciate the importance of that concept. I set up a stable condition, in this case level flight, clean at 120 KIAS, in a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. (The specific pitch, power, and configuration settings are different for different aircraft types, but the principle always applies.) After the airplane stabilizes, I then deliberately move the airplane from that condition, by banking, adding or reducing power, and setting a pitch attitude above or below the horizon.

Demonstrating “The Happy Place”

After a few seconds, the airplane has moved away from the initial condition, and then I follow the Pitch-Power sequence to reestablish stable flight at the original attitude, power setting, and airspeed.

This demo focuses on returning to level flight at the original airspeed, but the goal isn’t to return to the starting heading and altitude. I just want you to see how quickly you can return to the original condition if you apply the Pitch+Power-Configuration=Performance formula.

Stay tuned. I’ll add videos that show more “numbers” for Bonanzas and other aircraft types that are useful in a variety of situations.

For more background on this topic, see my tip at Pilot Workshops about learning “the numbers” by taking “panel selfies.”

Flight Simulator 2020: First Impressions

I have just started flying the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, and I want to offer my first impressions.

Background: I worked, in various capacities, on six versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator during my tenure at Microsoft. My projects included the last version of Flight Simulator for MS-DOS and all of the Windows versions up to planning for Flight Simulator X.

As readers of this blog also know, I’ve been a general aviation pilot since the mid-1970s, and I’m an active flight instructor and pilot. I’ve written two books (see my website for details, here and here) about using PC-based flight simulation as a complement to flight training. When I use a flight simulation, I want to be in the pilot’s seat.

The Flight Simulator development team is posting updates about its plans to fix bugs and add features at flightsimulator.com.

Like everyone else gushing about the new Flight Simulator 2020, I’m impressed by the depictions of the scenery, weather, aircraft models, and cockpits. These visual features take the world of PC-based flight simulation to a new level, and I am already working on ways to use FS2020 to help customers at the flight school where I teach learn about visual arrival and departure routes from Boeing Field (KBFI).

Over Blake Island at the start of the Bootleg Arrival to KBFI
The C172 in a typical ILS configuration: Pitch slightly below the horizon, power at about 1900 RPM, flaps 10, 90 KIAS
On an ILS in the C172

I’m disappointed, however, by many other elements of FS2020.

Flight Simulator 2020 is movie sequel with spectacular special effects, but without the plot or characters that made its predecessors so engaging.

Here’s a quick summary of my impressions so far.

  • Like every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, FS2020 requires a state-of-the-art computer to run satisfactorily. I am running the simulation on a system with a 2TB SSD drive, lots of RAM, and a late-model graphics card with plenty of dedicated memory. FS2020 runs well, although even my 6-month old computer doesn’t default to the highest level of detail. And I haven’t experimented with features such as live traffic and ATC that typically bog down systems. In this respect, FS2020 is no different from every other release.
  • The developers and Microsoft (so far) have provided no documentation–not even a summary of basic keyboard and joystick controls–to help even experienced FS pilots manage key controls, views, and other details. This oversight is inexplicable and maddening.
  • Navigation within the simulation is clearly optimized for Xbox game controllers, not simulation enthusiasts who want to set up a flight quickly by choosing an aircraft, location, weather, and other initial conditions. Instead, you must navigate full-screen “menus,” and, so far at least, I can find no way to change just one or two initial conditions. Selecting a new airport, aircraft, or environment requires returning to the main screen, and restarting involves waiting through a long reloading sequence.
  • The cockpits, while stunning and realistic in appearance, provide only basic control of radios and navigation systems. For example, the GNS 530 or G1000 in some panels is really just an electronic depiction of a primary flight display and/or a moving map. You can’t build a flight plan, load instrument procedures, or otherwise use it like its real-world counterpart, even for basic navigation functions. You can, however, tune ground-based navaids (VORs and localizers) and fly “green needle” approaches.
  • FS2020 is a big step backward as a training aid for real-world pilots. And I suspect the limitations of the current avionics will also disappoint the virtual pilots around the world who have long enjoyed the challenge of navigating, flying instrument approaches and like. The beautiful scenery and modeling will engage “simmers” only so long before they return to FSX or X-Plane and the many add-ons that make those simulations much more realistic and complete experiences of “flying.”
  • Many virtual pilots obsess about “flight dynamics,” how realistically the simulated aircraft “fly.” I’ve written extensively about this topic (see, for example, Simulations, Flight Simulators, FTDs, and ATDs). I don’t yet have much experience testing the behavior of aircraft in FS2020 with which I’m familiar. And in any event, much discussion of the handling of aircraft is confused by limitations of the joysticks, yokes, rudder pedals, and other devices that virtual pilots use to fly their sims. So far, however, the aircraft I have flown in FS2020 seem to behave predictably, and the pitch+power+configuration setups that I employ in their real counterparts seem to hold up reasonably well in the simulation.

In sum, FS2020 strikes me as an update that focuses on visual wow factors that attract enthusiasts of console games and some veteran “simmers.” But it’s an incomplete flight simulation. In fact, in many respects, it’s a step backward for virtual aviators and real-world pilots who want to experience aviation when they can’t take to the skies in a real aircraft. I hope that Microsoft and the developer who created this new simulation will work closely with the add-on developers who can fill in gaps and make FS2020 more than just spectacular way to see the world from above.

Here’s another take on FS2020 from Pilot Workshops. (I am a contributor to some Pilot Workshops programs and publications.)

“Panel Selfies”: A Tip of the Week

Pilot Workshops has published another Tip of the Week, Learning the Numbers, that I use with students and customers to help them master a set of basic configurations for VFR and IFR flight. Today we have a handy tool that makes learning those configurations easier.

You can read my detailed explanation at Learning the Numbers.

An RNAV (GPS) Approach in IMC

A recent flight to Aurora, OR (KUAO) south of Portland ended with the RNAV (GPS) RWY 17 approach almost to the published LPV (localizer peformance with vertical guidance) minimums, which provide an ILS-like descent. (But keep in mind: The Runway Environment in the RNAV Era.)

A gusty, wet front blew across the Pacific Northwest that day, creating unusual IFR conditions for early August. This video, with ATC communications, shows the approach, starting with the descent from cruise altitude (7000), through touchdown.

For more information about flying approaches, see these posts here at BruceAir:

Avoiding the Vectors-to-Final Scramble

Flying Instrument Approaches without Activating the Approach

Setting a Course v. Vectors to Final

Changes to Vectors-to-Final in Garmin GTN System 6.x

New ATC Phraseology for RNAV Aircraft

Annotating IFR Charts

More Practice with New Avionics

Here are two videos that show practice approaches with the new Garmin G500 TXi, GTN 750 XI, and GFC 600 autopilot.

The first video shows the departure from Boeing Field (KBFI) and the RNAV (GPS) RWY 20 approach at Bremerton, WA (KPWT).

The second video shows the ILS RWY 20 at KPWT, flown with the autopilot off, but with cues from the flight director.

Unfortunately, I had a problem with the audio connection while recording these videos, so they don’t include ATC or intercom audio. I’ll fix that issue for future videos.

RNAV (GPS) approach to LPV minimums
ILS approach with flight director

Video: Garmin GFC 600 Go-Around Test

My 1989 A36 Bonanza recently emerged from the shop at Pacific Coast Avionics with updates to several components. The most significant improvement, albeit one that doesn’t show off as obviously as the Garmin G500 TXi and GTN 750Xi, is the GFC 600 autopilot.

GFC 600 controller
(GMC605)

The GFC 600 replaced the original KFC 150, a state-of-the art autopilot for light aircraft in the 1980s and 1990s. It was showing its age, however, and it lacks features available in the latest generation of digital autopilots, such as the Garmin GFC 500 and GFC 600 and the Genesys S-Tec 3100.

I will have more to say about the new avionics in subsequent posts, magazine articles, and videos, but for now, here’s a video that shows a test of the coupled go-around feature of the GFC 600. I flew the ILS Y RWY 16R approach at Paine Field (KPAE) in visual conditions for this familiarization flight. At the decision altitude, I pressed the Go-Around button, and the autopilot started the climb. My job was to add power and retract the landing gear and flaps.

New Microsoft Flight Simulator due August 18

Microsoft will release the new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator on August 18, 2020.

Video preview here.

The simulation will be available in three versions:

  • Standard ($59.99)
  • Deluxe ($89.99)
  • Premium ($119.99)

More details are at the Microsoft website, here.