Everybody loves a good approach plate. At least Air Facts readers do. After we shared seven bizarre instrument approach charts last year, we had hundreds of positive comments and numerous requests for more. As we like to say, the readers are PIC at Air Facts, so here we will indulge your desire for more torturous procedures.
In the initial article, we limited ourselves to airports in the United States. But given the recently concluded Olympics, we thought it only appropriate to include airports from all over the world. So buckle up for a whirlwind tour of the globe’s most interesting approach charts. As usual, these charts are for fun only, and not to be used for navigation.
Some of the most interesting approach charts are for VFR days. Last year we showed off famous visuals to New York and Boston, but we left out another famous one–Washington National Airport’s River Visual. This procedure, designed for noise abatement, twists and turns down the Potomac River and is an interesting ride the first time you do it:
On the other end of the sophistication spectrum would be the RNAV 13R at Palm Springs, California. This airport sits in a wide valley, but is surrounded by mountains that reach over 10,000 ft. above airport elevation. But that’s no match for a smart approach designer with the benefit of RNAV (RNP more specifically). The resulting approach is one you can’t fly in your Skyhawk–see the Authorization Required note–but it does show the future of instrument approaches, with hardly a straight segment in sight:
Mexico offers some unique approaches as well, including the ILS DME 3 or LOC 17 at Saltillo. With mountains on both sides of the final approach course, the designers had to get creative. The “procedure turn” is a DME-based teardrop entry, and the missed approach is another teardrop to the other side of the final approach course. The result is a heart-shaped chart that will make your head spin thinking about all the options:
Not to be outdone, Canada offers some hair-raising approaches too. Ever wanted to shoot an NDB approach to a 3800 ft. MDA in the mountains–that uses two NDBs? Didn’t think so. But that’s exactly what you can do in Castlegar, British Columbia. Is the name of the second NDB a joke?
Back in the US, Roswell airport in New Mexico offers something different. For those days when you need to get your F-16 back home on a scuzzy day, consider the Hi ILS 21, which starts at 15,000 ft. and ends at 3800 ft.
But as the famous saying goes, there’s always someone flying higher and faster, so that F-16 approach is certainly not top dog. Why not? Because if you steal a Space Shuttle and have to get back to the Cape, you need the MLS 33 at the Kennedy Space Center. Just be sure to disable the TAWS system or you’ll hear “sink rate” for the last 5000 ft.:
Our final North American entry isn’t a real approach, but it is a fine design. Have you seen the Hudson Miracle approach that Jeppesen created?
South America has no shortage of mountains, and those tall peaks lead to some unique instrument procedures. The VOR DME 2 at Cochabamba, Bolivia would certainly qualify. It’s a DME arc to a final approach course that ends at a field elevation of nearly 8400 ft:
Manizales, Colombia has a slew of interesting approaches too, including the VOR Z approach to runway 10. How’s your Spanish?
No list of famous approaches would be complete without the “checkerboard” approach to Hong Kong’s (now closed) Kai Tak airport. Fly the needles down to skyscraper level, find the checkerboard on the mountain side, bank right and land:
Kathmandu, Nepal is another place known for its remote location and high elevation. As you would expect, the VOR DME 02 at Tribhuvan airport is a doozy, with no less than eight step down altitudes to remember and a challenging missed approach:
Probably the most complicated approach ever designed is for Linzhi, Tibet. The airport, which is almost 10,000 ft. above sea level, is in a place no approach should ever exist. But there is one, complete with a staggering 105 waypoints and a 90-mile missed approach leg. This is a private approach that requires special equipment, so no plate is available, but watch this video for a glimpse of how crazy it gets.
One of Europe’s most interesting approaches isn’t in the remote mountains. Instead, the obstacles to avoid at London City Airport are tall buildings that surround this urban airport. While it’s a fairly straightforward approach in its design, it features a “chop it and drop it” 5.5 degree glideslope that requires special aircraft certification:
NDB approaches may be an endangered species in the US, but in many parts of the world they are a backbone of the instrument approach system. There’s no better example than the three NDB circling approach to Petropavlovsk, Russia.
The LOC A approach at Reggio Calabria, the so-called “Italian Kai Tak,” is another interesting approach. It includes an offset final approach course, high mountains and plenty of red notes to read:
One final European plate deserves some attention: the NDB DME 14 to Montenegro’s Tivat airport. Look carefully, as there’s a lot to take in:
One final group of approaches deserves special recognition: call it the wild card group if you like. These are all circling approaches, but look closely and it’s clear these are not your typical circling approach. Some aren’t even instrument procedures.
First up is the chart for night circuit procedures at Kelowna in Canada. It’s hard to believe this would ever be a good idea, but at least it’s charted:
Innsbruck in Austria is a legendary airport, especially for flight simulator pilots. But this is a frequently-used airport, especially during ski season, so it gets plenty of action. Besides the famous instrument approaches, there are some interesting visual approach procedures to consider, particularly if you’re circling:
Bern, Switzerland has charted circling procedures as well, but mostly for noise abatement. Note the explicit detail, including inset charts, that pilots need to understand:
Finally, consider the NDB Visual Approach to runway 5 in Madeira, Portugal, which could be handy for that next trans-Atlantic ferry flight.
The gold medal winner is?
Each of these approaches has something unique to offer the brave instrument pilot, and they are a fine reminder that reading the entire approach chart is essential in mountainous terrain. While we wouldn’t assign one on an instrument rating check ride, they are all safe and flyable with a little planning and good airmanship.
Which one gets the gold medal?
Coming from an aviation family, John grew up in the back of small airplanes and learned to fly as a teenager. Ever since, he has been hooked on anything with wings and regularly flies a Citabria, a Pilatus PC-12 and a Robinson R44 helicopter. He is an ATP and also holds ratings for multiengine, seaplanes, gliders, and helicopters. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of Air Facts, John is a Vice President at Sporty’s Pilot Shop, responsible for new product development and marketing.