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Flying Stabilized Approaches


Andrew Heath

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Have you ever approached an airport too high or too fast and as a result you had to dive bomb the runway in order to land? Have you ever landed halfway down the runway in an attempt to squeak out that perfect landing rate? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then you are the victim of an unstablized approach and in the POSCON world, you lose points for that type of flying. One of the biggest operational challenges for a virtual pilot is how to successfully accomplish a stabilized approach in the simulator. In fact, flying stabilized approaches in the flight simulator is difficult for even the most experienced real world pilots because of the inherent limitations of flight simulators such the limited FOV (field of view) compared to the real world. In this post, I am going to attempt to tackle the reasons why stabilized approaches are such a challenge and offer some techniques on how to ensure your approaches remain stabilized.

For our example scenarios, we are going to John Wayne - Orange County Airport located in Santa Ana, California (KSNA). This airport has two parallel runways:

Runway 20R/2L - this is the larger of the two runways at 5,701 x 150 feet with all of it available for landing.
Runway 20L/2R - this is the smaller of the two runways at 2,887 x 75 feet with all of it available for landing.

Runways 20L and 20R from X-Plane 11: 

Untitled1.png

 

This is an old real world photo when the runways were previously named 19L and 19R.

1764718.jpg


image.pngNot sure if you noticed, but there are two very important differences between the two photos other than the runway naming.

The first difference is that in the X-Plane photo, the runway touchdown zone markings extend the entire length of the runway which gives the flight simulator pilot a false sense of where the touchdown zone is located. In the real world photo, there are only three touchdown zone markings (not including the threshold markings). Each touchdown zone marking indicates 500 feet. You might ask, why are there only three in the real world? For that, lets define the term "touchdown zone".

Touchdown zone = the first 3,000 feet of a runway or first third, whichever is less.

In the case of KSNA, that means the touchdown zone is defined as the first 1,900 feet (5,701 divided by 3). 

So at KSNA, the runway painters only painted 3 markings to indicate the touchdown zone (3 x 500 = 1,500). Anything more than that would give the pilot incorrect information.

The second major difference between the two photos is the fact that the X-Plane runway is simply too long. You can tell this because of the location of the third touchdown zone marking in relation to the taxiway. In the real world photo, the taxiway is located in the same position as the third marking, but in the X-Plane photo, the taxiway is located in the same position as the fourth marking.

These types of scenery inaccuracies present a significant challenge to flight simulator pilots because landing in the touchdown zone is a requirement of every landing and the expected outcome of flying a stabilized approach. If you estimate that you will NOT land in the touchdown zone, a go-around MUST be initiated. POSCON will automatically deduct points from your score if you fail to land within the touchdown zone because it is indicative of an unsafe landing.

We now know what the touchdown zone is and why it is important, but to achieve a safe landing in the touchdown zone, it first starts with a stabilized approach. Significant speed and configuration changes during an approach can complicate aircraft control, increase the difficulty of evaluating an approach as it progresses, and complicate the decision at the decision point (i.e., DA, DDA, DH, MDA). Assess the probable success of an approach before reaching the decision point by determining the requirements for a stabilized approach have been met and maintained. Normal bracketing is defined as small corrections in airspeed, rates of descent, and variations from lateral and vertical path. Normal bracketing is a part of any instrument or visual approach procedure. Frequent or sustained variations are not normal bracketing excursions and are not acceptable. POSCON will automatically deduct points from your score if you fail to conduct a stabilized approach; however, you will only be charged points if the approach results in a landing. If you realize you are unstable and go-around without touching down, no points will be deducted. Let's review the criteria the POSCON grades on:

Stabilized Approach Requirements

On any approach, the following is required:

  • Below 2,000 feet above field level, do not descend at a rate greater than 2,000 FPM for more than a few seconds.
  • Below 1,000 feet above field level, or inside the FAF, do not descend at a rate greater than 1,000 FPM for more than a few seconds.

EXCEPTION: At special airports such as Lukla (VNLK), Telluride (KTEX), Aspen (KASE), Paro Bhutan (VQPR), etc. OR if you are simulating an emergency, you can "dispute" the point deduction in order to be exempt from the above criteria. We also are considering exempting certain aircraft types as well such as general aviation.

At 1,000 feet above field level:

  • You must be in a landing configuration (gear down and final landing flaps), no exceptions.
  • On the proper flight path.
  • At stabilized thrust (spooled).
  • Minimum speed: target speed minus 5 knots.
  • Maximum speed: target speed plus 10 knots.

EXCEPTION: In VMC, the requirements at 1,000 feet can be delayed until 500 feet above field elevation, except landing configuration.

These requirements must be maintained throughout the rest of the approach for it to be considered a stabilized approach. If the stabilized approach requirements cannot be satisfied by the minimum stabilized approach heights or maintained throughout the rest of the approach, then you must execute a go-around. The decision to go around is not an indication of poor performance, but rather good judgement.

Main Causes of Unstabilized Approaches

  1. Visual approaches.
  2. Poor descent and speed planning from cruise.
  3. Unreasonable ATC speed or altitude restrictions.

Techniques to Flying a Stabilized Approach

Here are some tips on how to achieve a stabilized approach:

  1. Stabilized approaches start with good descent and speed planning.
    • The total flying distance required for a normal descent to landing can be calculated by factoring 3 miles per 1,000 feet or 1 mile per 300 feet (3 to 1 ratio). Sometimes, however, a 3 to 1 ratio cannot be maintained due to high tailwinds, engine anti-ice activation, or ATC assigned speed restrictions. If you are flying jet aircraft, make sure you are not afraid to use speed brakes when necessary as they are a very effective tool to "go down and slow down" simultaneously. If you are in variable pitch prop aircraft, you can push the prop lever full forward which will use the blade of the prop to help slow the aircraft.
    • The best way to slow an aircraft in the descent is to level. It is not always possible, but when it is, it is good practice to build in a few extra miles prior to a speed restriction to level just to make sure you can achieve the desired speed. If the act of leveling gets you off your desired descent path (i.e. too high), you can always add flaps to maintain a high descent rate while maintaining a slow speed. Speed brakes can also help, but avoid using speed brakes below 180 KIAS.
    • Extending your gear is your trump card... play it when necessary. The gear is the biggest drag device you have on your aircraft. If the choice is between going around and dumping the gear early, the gear is always the best option.
  2. 1,000 feet is just a minimum. You should target 1,500 feet to ensure you are stable by 1,000 feet. In general, plan to be stabilized on all approaches by 1,000 feet above field level in both IMC and VMC.
  3. Use electronic guidance when available. This does NOT mean you need to request to fly the instrument approach, you can simply tune and backup your visual approach using an ILS or RNAV for the vertical guidance that these approaches provide.
    • A good technique on visual approaches is to intercept the vertical path, even if not established on the lateral guidance.
  4. If ATC assigns you an altitude or speed restriction you are unable to maintain, then simply say "unable".
  5. Know how to properly manipulate the the mode control panel (MCP) or guidance panel (GP) on your aircraft. Knowing what the different modes do will help you make good decisions during the descent phase. Also, it is important to understand how each mode interacts with your auto-throttle system. The last thing you want is the auto-throttles to increase power when you are not ready for them to do so.

Here is an example of what to do when you recognize early that a 3 to 1 ratio descent path is not going to work: 

image.png

Okay, now lets say you have tried ALL of the above and you are out of options, what now? Do you have to go-around?

There is one more option... increase the flying distance to the runway. You can do this a number of different ways, but it depends on how far away you are from the runway.

Early recognition of being unstable: If you realize early that you are going too high and/or fast on approach, you can ask ATC for "vectors for descent". 99% of the time ATC will be happy to accommodate this request because they rather give you a chance to make a stabilized approach than have to deal with your go-around. 

Late recognition of being unstable: If you realize that you are going to be high and/or fast and you are on final approach, then things become a little bit more complicated. With the exception of the C172-type aircraft and their ability to forward slip, the only option is an S-turn... yeah, that thing from the private pilot training. If you are flying into a controlled airfield, you need to request to conduct this maneuver from ATC. If you are flying into an uncontrolled field, you can simply perform this maneuver on your own.

CAUTION: Some people may suggest a 360 degree turn for stabilization on final as it is common practice at uncontrolled fields. I personally do not recommend this maneuver as it can lead to bad things if aircraft are behind you. If you feel that the S-turn technique will not work, it is better to just level at pattern altitude, fly upwind and then re-enter the traffic pattern.

The S-Turn Technique

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, thus if you want to increase the distance to a runway (i.e. the time to descend and slow), you need to add a bend in your flight path. In order to do this, first make sure you are above 1,000 feet above field level and in VMC. If not, you need to go around and try the approach again. If you are, I recommend the following technique:

  1. Turn 30-45 degrees off course.
  2. Maintain throttles to idle.
    • If you are too high: pitch for maximum vertical descent rate based on height above field level (e.g. do not exceed 2,000 FPM below 2,000 feet AFL or 1,000 FPM below 1,000 AFL).
    • If you are too fast: pitch for desired airspeed.
  3. Evaluate your glide path using visual or electronic means.
  4. When you feel comfortable with the stability of your approach, turn back towards the airfield and intercept the straight-in final.
    • CAUTION: Do not let the maneuver deviate more than 1 mile from the straight-in lateral track, otherwise you might as well go around and re-enter the pattern.

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As someone who has been challenged with this scenario before (managing a descent from FL600) - this is great advice and guidance on correct procedures - now added to my knowledge base for future reference!

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      Andrew Heath
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      Based on the email exchanges with X-CSL, my lawyer concluded that X-CSL and Almik implicitly allowed POSCON to distribute these models. Why else would Almik have referred me to his developer in order to give us technical information which would enable POSCON to include these models in our software? Our intentions were clearly outlined from the very first email sent to X-CSL. Almik and his developer never said, “yes include the package in your installer” directly, but they also never said “no.” Even though Almik was CCed on all the emails from the beginning, I recently reminded him that he was the one who referred us to his developer and as a result, his developer told us how to include the model package in our software. The POSCON developer programmed software based on this representation. The X-CSL developer's role in this was perpetuated by Almik — Almik referred POSCON to his developer, so it implies that Almik knew what this was about, and approved of it.

      What's also interesting to note is that Almik says he created this package for the benefit of all X-Plane users, "Each our model is a our free time, effort and even money to give the best results for all XP users as free," but by revoking POSCON's authorization he actually has made it harder for X-Plane users to use the X-CSL package on their preferred network of choice, unless of course that network is IVAO.

      At the end of the day, POSCON will comply with X-CSL's demands, but I think it is important to shed light on what sometimes happens behind the scenes in this "community" and why we can't have nice things.

      Reflecting back, this whole situation seems eerily familiar to the recent debacle between AIG and FLAi (click here for additional reading material). Bottom line, this type of behavior in our community needs to be called out and more importantly, it needs to stop.

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      To be honest, this doesn't really affect our model package too badly. There was approximately 70% overlap between BlueBell and X-CSL, so there will be a few unique models that will disappear in addition to some liveries. If you are interested in helping the POSCON model project recover from this loss, please reach out to Jeffory Beckers, our Model Asset Manager.

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      I'm sure you've seen those four letters before - RVSM - and you may have a fundamental knowledge about the airspace, but do you know why it exists? Here are the answers to the most basic questions:

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      Before we get into other details about RVSM lets recall that in many countries, the East ODD and West EVEN rule applies to vertical separation. This practice ensures that two airplanes are never assigned the same altitude flying in opposite directions. In some regions that are geographically more north/south split such as Italy or Florida for example, they have elected to modify the rule to favor North ODD and South EVEN as the determining factor for vertical separation. Either way a region chooses to separate traffic, it is important to recognize that these rules exist are crucial to establishing a baseline for high altitude vertical separation.

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      On a final note, RVSM aircraft require a maintenance certification as well. The next time you start up your flight sim and connect to POSCON for IMG_20190825_235257469.thumb.jpg.8e83b29248a45ce99a0d2db21142efb2.jpgyour online flight simulation experience, take a look at the outside of your aircraft. Depending on the quality of the aircraft in terms of realism and study level, you should see what's called an RVSM critical area (see image to the right). Aircraft maintenance technicians must run specific tests and certify that everything located within this box meets the required RVSM tolerances, which are often stricter than in flight checks accomplished by pilots. Static ports, pitot tubes, and AOA vanes are small examples of what can be found in these boxes, of course, these are important functions that will assure RVSM tolerances when in flight. Pilots check this box during preflight inspections to ensure this critical area is free of residue, damage, dents, or other non-normal appearances on the components in the boxed lines.

      On POSCON, our air traffic controllers are well trained on RVSM procedures. When flying online, ensure your aircraft is RVSM capable and make sure you indicate it properly in the flight plan equipment code section ("W" is the letter identifying that the aircraft RVSM capable). If you do not include "W" and are offered an RVSM altitude (it happens), simply say to ATC "Negative RVSM". And of course if you are having issues with your autopilot, now you know you are required to tell air traffic control.

      After reading this article, you should be confident answering when and why the "W" equipment code is required in your flight plan. It is true, there are far too many acronyms in the aviation world, but at least you got RVSM down! See you on POSCON in RVSM and don't forget the whiskey! (get it?)

    4. Network Technology

      Andrew Heath
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      By Andrew Heath,

      CAPTAINS,

      (if you have been in the flight simulation community long enough, you will understand the "Captains" reference)

      The last technology blog post was published in May of 2020, and what a long journey it has been for our team since then! Thankfully that long arduous development journey has come to an end and users will be able to benefit from our hard work.

      I want to start off by answering some common questions and clearing misconceptions.

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      Absolutely not! We are very much alive and well!

      We may not seem like a major player in the online flight simulation network arena right now, but rest assured that our technology is far superior to that of our peers and we will be a significant force to reckon with in the near future.

      So, where have you been?

      The short answer is, we have been here all along. . . quietly developing.

      As a result of feedback from early beta testers, we took the drastic step of essentially shutting down POSCON's forward progress in order to rewrite the voice software. This decision was made when we realized that the voice software was not going to be able to sustain our projected growth using the protocol it was developed to use. Making a change to the protocol basically required a complete rewrite, which I am pleased to report is now complete.

      The good news is that the rewrite only occupied one developer for past last year. While he worked tirelessly to bring users a better voice experience, our other developers have been making significant feature upgrades to their components. I am going to take some time to highlight those major developments later in this post.

      Why haven't you posted development updates over the past year?

      To answer this question, we need to address two major issues in the flight simulation community: the hype train mentality and the copying problem.

      1. The hype train mentality. A very common tendency in the flight simulation community is to over-hype a product. Some developers do this on purpose by dropping little nuggets of information or photos on social media regarding a new and exciting product they are working on in order to build hype, then one of two things happens; either the product never gets released (it was vaporware all along) or the product is released, but does not live up to the hype. This community loves to ride the hype train and it is not something that the POSCON team thinks is a professional approach to software development and marketing. We don't want to build up hype around a product that doesn't live up to expectations. We feel it is better to stay quiet and develop rather than to make promises we cannot keep.
      2. The copying problem. No, I am not referring to the people who like to pirate software (and yes, that is a problem too). What I am referring to the issue of other developers/networks (you know who you are) taking our great ideas and benefiting from them. This is something Robert Randazzo of PMDG actually brought up in his recent interview with Jeff Turner over at Sky Blue Radio in regards to Global Flight Operations. I couldn't agree more. Competition is a great thing, but competition means being innovative and developing new ideas.

      Anyway, enough of my rant. . . but those are the main reasons we are careful not to provide too many details about what we are working on now.

      Okay, so what are you willing to share?

      First, I think it is important to point out that all recent updates to our software can be found in the changelogs which are located on the POSCON HQ. I certainly have no intention of covering everything that has changed over the past last year, so I encourage all users to browse through the logs if you are interested in learning more.

      Having said that, there are some main points I want to cover in this blog post.

      Let's first talk about the voice software, since this is what has been the major barrier to our forward progress. The voice software is now using a new protocol which will prevent a lot of the issues that users were experiencing with the previous iteration such as issues with wireless headsets, sample rates, garbling, etc. In addition to changing the protocol, we moved all the voice settings (push-to-talk, audio device selection, volume control, etc.) from the Radar Client and Pilot Clients into the Launcher Client in order to centralize these settings. This means that users will now only need to modify the voice settings once for all POSCON clients. This integration of the voice software into the Launcher Client enables us to expand the capabilities of the voice software in the future to perhaps support web-based pilot and ATC clients. You can find all the new voice settings by clicking cog wheel in the bottom right-hand corner of the Launcher Client:

      Screenshot_5.png.233b7bd6159573869caec8565bfaa21a.png

      Here are the new settings that you will see after clicking on the cog wheel:

      image.png.24cf5c391f784324358d73faaa88b80d.png

      Under the "Volume Controls" setting, we now allow users to control squelch which adds an extra layer of realism to the VHF simulation. You can adjust the squelch by moving the slider left (lower) and right (higher).

      Screenshot_7.png.4b948da02750b6cd27ec1ad89a64ad62.png

      The Launcher Client also incorporates a new voice status icon located in the upper right-hand corner of application which gives users an indication of the microphone and the radio configuration. Here are the different states:

      "No Radio" - Red Mic Icon
      You are not connected to POSCON (or the voice server) or your airplane radios are not powered (perhaps your avionics are turned off).
      image.png.14922fcee062490205836485f1163ec2.png 

      "Radio Ready" - White Mic Icon
      Your radios are configured correctly, but you are not currently transmitting.
      image.png.6fc970f4668d91b15aae646e93e6f588.png

      "Transmitting" - Green Mic Icon
      You are transmitting and listening on a frequency.
      image.png.80bd29a673f8a009740e97191396653e.png

      "No Reception" - Yellow Mic Icon
      Your radios are set up to transmit, but not to listen.
      image.png.85572bc011d5741ec7b7db75230a3243.png

      image.png.72490d8c38a6ad7ebc85c24ae3ed29e7.png (push-to-talk button/key pressed)

      "No Transmission" - Yellow Mic Icon
      Your radios are set up to listen, but not to transmit. This can happen when you are in Ghost mode or if you don't have your radios configured to transmit on a frequency.
      image.png.ea5a031f16b4b0efe8a6af70a4905828.png

      image.png.b0d7aa827616c5a21b3f0d6499f60fd9.png (push-to-talk button/key pressed)

      In all cases, remember you can use the Pilot Client Web UI ("RADIOS" page) to get better insight into what is happening with the configuration of your radios.

      Other changes to the voice software include:

      • Upgrades to the radio-frequency physical model which helps to better simulate real-world radio interference
      • Antenna position now varies by aircraft type and thus improves ground effects near the airport surface
      • Server-side memory optimization and multi-threading
      • New stuck-mic protection (35 second timer, then mic cuts out)

      The Launcher Client itself has been re-versioned to 1.0.0 and is officially out of beta testing. We upgraded it to the latest dot NET framework and changed the cloud location where it downloads client software from. The long term goal (version 2.0.0) for the Launcher Client is something we are referring to as the "Unified Launcher Client". The Unified Launcher Client will integrate the SimConnect (FSX/P3D/MSFS) Pilot Client, voice software, and authentication all into the same code-base so that multiple applications need not be opened simultaneously to run POSCON.

      One important user-experience note about the new Launcher Client (version 1.0.0) is that when you click the "X" in the top right-hand corner, it will now minimize the Launcher Client to the system tray. In order to completely quit the Launcher Client, you must right-click on the icon in the system tray to quit.

      image.png.c58a5b1661dac7f44a2b86e0781b2600.png

      The HQ has undergone a significant number of upgrades and improvements over the past year. . . far too many to mention here so I encourage you to go view the HQ specific changelog. Our most recent changes (i.e. in the past month or so) include the addition of a brand new Virtual Operators section. Virtual Operators are essentially organizations that are commonly referred to as "virtual airlines" in the community. These organizations can join POSCON and benefit from an integrated connection that will ensure members only fly with approved aircraft, callsigns, routes, and more!

      Also, the HQ development team has been slowly improving the ATC Division pages including a re-design of the Overview and Members pages to offer a better user experience to view information and activity in the division. Speaking of re-design, your User Profile has also been re-designed to offer a better user experience that compliments all your activity!

      The Radar Client has had many updates and improvements as well, please see the Radar Client specific Changelog for more details.

      The Pilot Clients and Radar Client have been stripped of all voice-related items. The software should still work normally, but the voice now is handled by the Launcher Client.

      Wow, that's amazing stuff, but how do you plan on attracting more users?

      Sorry, but this is a Technology blog! Can't answer that!

      In all seriousness, we will be sending out marketing materials soon. We plan on making 2022 a big year for POSCON and we want to thank those who have kept the faith throughout the years. Without you and your encouragement, this wouldn't have been worth it! 

      Happy Holidays to all!

      🎄🥳

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