Breaking down an approach session at HEGN

I’m going to breakdown an approach session I had at HEGN during Friday Night Flight. Read the video’s description on YouTube for some context as to what’s going on before reading. Ok, here’s what I learned from the session.

First off, this won’t be clear from the video because it’s a time-lapse, but I probably should not have been accepting departures at some points. When I opened I anticipated there being a lot of traffic, but I neglected them for a little bit and that portion got a little sloppy. I still did a great job in that department overall, seeing conflicts and vectoring them out of the way, I just missed a few calls in which is not ok. I could make a bunch of excuses why I did that were out of my control, but I won’t.

Second, I think I did a pretty good job with deconfliction. I was using each leg of the S pattern to control spacing and extending legs to contain the legs I had. The S pattern is broken up into five sections. Initial, first leg, turn, second leg, turn, downwind, base, clear. Here’s a visual if you don’t understand what I mean by that.

The goal was to have the first leg’s turn be perpendicular to the base leg turn which I battled to keep that going by extending the second leg. Having the first leg be perpendicular to base controls the size of the entire approach, and makes it more efficient.

Third, my base turn was really annoying me throughout the entire session. It was later then I wanted it and I just had to stick with it to maintain the required 5nm-6nm spacing. I tried multiple times to fix it by extending the second leg before the downwind leg. I should have extended the second leg a little bit further upwind to fix that issue. The reason why I like having a “shorter” base turn then that is because I have no flexibility when it comes to spacing on the base turn, with it being longer. I can extend their downwind further, but not by much. I would have liked more room, it worked out though.

Fourth, I needed to move a bit quicker with commands. It is a lot of work to keep all of that contained and uniform, but it could have been even faster, even though I was already moving pretty quickly.

Fifth, and this kind of goes back to the third point, there were times I let some cut the line to close in spacing. I should have just stayed the course I was on because I could have shortened the base more. On the other hand though, I don’t know if that would have had a negative effect with the rest of the line I had going had I shortened the base.

Overall, I think I did a great job with spacing and fitting people in. I may or may not change things next time, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. These are all just observations.

Minimum Crossing Altitude

A MCA (Minimum Crossing Altitude) is the lowest altitude at certain fixes at which the aircraft must cross when proceeding in the direction of a higher minimum en route IFR altitude.

The symbol looks like a flag with an “X” in the middle, here’s an example.

1. “Page 665” of the Pilot/Glossary in the AIM

Never forget to check if the runway heading is offset

As a radar controller, you should always check approach plates for the airport you plan on opening, before opening, or at the very least, fly the approach.

Check if the runway headings are offset from the runway number. In most cases, the runway number will match the runway heading for the runway. For example, runway 06R will most likely have a runway heading of 060, or somewhere near there.

There are some cases though as I mentioned that the runway heading will be offset. Runway heading for the ILS LOC RWY 08L at KATL is 95 degrees, so if you clear at a heading 050 for an ILS clearance, it will be a 40 degree intercept. No good, an ILS/GPS clearance must be between 30 to 10 degrees offset from runway heading.

If you never checked the approach plate, or flew the approach, you would never know for sure what the runway heading is. The runway number means nothing when it comes clearing for an ILS/GPS approach.

1. “10.7.4” of the ATC Manual.

Don’t sequence too early

If you sequence too early you might as well not sequence at all. You can’t not sequence at all, so don’t waste the pilot’s time and your time.

Say there’s three aircraft in the pattern, all sequenced, cleared. All good. Then incomes a pilot 22 nautical miles away. What do you do? Do you ‘A’, issue a pattern entry with no sequence, or ‘B’, issue a pattern entry with a sequence. To sequence or not to sequence, you should not sequence.

Waiting is never a bad thing, it allows for you to assess the situation and not confuse the pilot. If you sequence too early you will likely just need to resequence again later, which adds to your workload and the pilot’s workload, unnecessarily.

You need to find that happy medium when the aircraft is close enough for the sequence to matter and make sense.

Be fully prepared before opening

If you put in the work beforehand, it won’t be a waste of time. If you aren’t fully prepared, don’t open. No one is forcing you too.

In training, testing or on the expert server. If you aren’t prepared, prepare to fail.

TFR, but no warning before spawning

In a recent update, a warning was added that will pop up before spawning to notify you that a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) is active at the airport or in the area. For TFRs (Temporary Flight Restriction) however, no such warning will display before spawning.

Some TFRs state that you will be reported by ATC, without warning, so you always need to check the airspace on the map for colored circles. Click the circle to pull up it’s information.

Be prepared and be aware, you’ll never get in trouble with that in your mind.

Get them off your frequency

The goal of controlling is to get the aircraft off your frequency as quickly as possible, and as safely as possible. Don’t prolong things, try to find the fastest route into the airport.

The less aircraft on your frequency the better. For every one aircraft that calls in, one aircraft should be cleared and done. Don’t delay things unnecessarily.

Give yourself room for go arounds

When controlling approach, I find it beneficial to give yourself 1000ft of vertical separation to work with on the downwind leg.

What I mean by this is that if your downwind leg’s MSA (Minimum Safe Altitude) is 9000ft MSL, for example. Don’t have aircraft on downwind at 9,000ft MSL, put them at 10,000ft MSL.

When you have an aircraft go around on final, you’ll need to slot them onto downwind somehow, and go around aircraft will be lower naturally as they are descending to land. If you have your aircraft at 9,000ft MSL on downwind, the MSA, you have no option but to somehow fit them in behind or in front of the aircraft on downwind, which gives you fewer options and lengthens the go around aircraft’s approach.

If you have your downwind at 10,000ft MSL however, you gotta give yourself 1000ft of vertical separation to work with, and you can put the go around aircraft behind, under or in front of the aircraft on downwind.

If the go-around aircraft is underneath another aircraft, you can just sort out the separation on base by turning one aircraft’s base. More flexibility, more options, quicker approach.