Driving All Night

More notes than you see on any three other approaches and an unusually charted and long course reversal are enough to put you to sleep. But wait! Theres more...


About the only thing I personally know about Lincoln, Nebraska is a Denny’s off Interstate 80. In my moderately delinquent youth, I helped a friend who couldn’t afford a move from Connecticut to Colorado by renting a truck for local use one Thursday afternoon, disconnecting the odometer, round tripping across two time zones, and reconnecting it in time to log 30 miles before returning the truck Monday morning.

This also meant we had no idea how fast we were going, but I get a kick out of flying partial panel. I didn’t share either of those facts with the Pennsylvania State Trooper.

Is This For Real?

Memories of that trip’s white-line fever and the surreality of a Denny’s Grand Slam at 5:00 a.m. came to mind with the teardrop course reversal on the ILS or LOC Rwy 18 into the same Lincoln, NE.

Somewhere in the facts we repeat by rote in our instrument training is a bit saying that course reversals charted as racetracks or teardrops must be flown as charted. Racetracks are an RNAV staple, but teardrops? These are a rarity.

Start at the Lincoln VOR, which is one of the initial approach fixes, and follow R-321 outbound at 3200 feet—and for 12 miles—to JUSAM. Now make a continuous turn with just the right amount of bank while accounting for the changing groundspeed due to wind so you gently intercept the localizer inbound. (This doesn’t happen at HUSKR, by the way. Bear with me to see why.)

Note the unique charting for the teardrop in the profile view. The outbound leg, the turn, and the inbound are all at the same altitude. For other procedure turns, that would be charted as a single line with outbound and inbound arrows. Not so here. It looks like there’s a descent on this teardrop, but there isn’t.

Note as well the absence of terms like “remain with 10 miles” or the reasonable “4 NM holding pattern.” Flying the full procedure is a cross-country drive of 12 miles to HUSKR, about 8 miles of curve to intercept the localizer, and another 5.5 miles to ESACO. Fly that in a tired rental like that truck we had and you’ll be driving all night, too.

The charted teardrop curve is about five miles in diameter, so forget standard rate. Flying that turn no-wind and at 110 knots would require holding about four degrees of bank. You’d probably be holding it long enough that a mechanical AI would start to right itself again and you’d fly the next part of the approach with it cocked to one side.

Of course, it’s only the sadistic instructor who would make you do the whole thing. I checked with some CFIs in the area who tell me ATC will approve an early turn to intercept the localizer for the asking. People are so helpful in the plains states.

How far would you want to travel outbound? A standard rate turn at 110 knots is about a mile in diameter, or a fifth of the full teardrop. Go about a fifth of the way outbound, or a bit north of two miles, and make your request.

HUSKR is the other initial approach fix, and isn’t on the localizer. Look close and you’ll see a tiny line from HUSKR to (CFPGS). The parenthetical fix is for GPS navigators only, but it’s where both the course from HUSKR and the teardrop meet the localizer in a perfect world. The note just below HUSKR shows it’s a paltry 0.2 miles from HUSKR to the localizer, and then 5.5 miles to ESACO. Yes, that’s how I knew it was 5.5 miles in the total mentioned above.

Why a teardrop turn at all? I haven’t found out. This is a joint-use airfield with high-speed military aircraft using it. Note there are Category E minimums listed. Category E means the aircraft has a final approach speed of 166 knots or more. Those aircraft burn up a lot of sky along with all that fuel. Note this is Amendment 7B of this approach, so it was originally charted a long time ago. Possibly with the F-104 Starfighter was still cutting-edge technology.

Dual Nav Required?

Once on the localizer, having your second nav tuned to the Lincoln VOR is handy, but not essential. Crossing the 341 radial is how you identify a 300-foot stepdown at ESACO, as shown by the lightweight line marking R-341 on the chart. However, you could simply intercept the localizer from 3200 feet. R-316 identifies CLONE, which is important to verify your altitude on glideslope of 2837, but this ILS still has an outer marker, which most audio panels still support.

Don’t get fooled by the vertical line marked LNK VORTAC in the profile view. That’s for the entry into the teardrop, not the final approach. You know that for a fact because the bottom of that line has no distance marked to and away from it at the footer of the profile view. Those distances are between fixes on the final approach course.

The next stepdown after CLONE is ROROC. Identifying it requires two nav receivers or a GPS. How do you know that? Well, besides needing to stay on the localizer with one while identifying the crossing radial with the other, it says so right there in the ROROC fix minimums line. Note also that it’s only for the localizer approach. The stepdown only buys you 60 feet. Curiously, the straight-in localizer and circling approaches have the same MDA. The only difference is visibility. It’s pretty flat out there.

All Those Notes? Must I?

If you fly the full teardrop, at least you have reading material. The notes section of this approach is longer than that Denny’s menu.

Prioritize epic notes by skimming for the things that apply. The Beatrice altimeter setting changing the DA/MDA could apply, but you should have the ATIS before you select an approach to brief, so if you have the local altimeter, move on. Looks like a visibility increase, too? No, just Category C and faster. In fact, Categories A and B can skip the next 50 percent of the notes.

If the MALSR approach lights are inop, the required visibility goes up to nearly a mile. Makes sense; it’s harder to drive to your destination with information missing, especially at night. Loss of the approach lights also removes your normal approach measuring stick. Some quick math helps here.

The lower right of the profile view shows a three-degree glidepath and a threshold crossing height of 55 feet. The glideslope meets the runway about 1000 feet past the threshold, so the triangle it forms is 1000 feet long by 55 feet high. Back up another 5000 feet and you have a triangle that’s 6000 feet by 330 feet. If you’re on glidepath and need 4500 feet visibility you should see at least the threshold by about 300 feet. My plan would be using 300 feet AGL, which is 1495 feet MSL, as my new DA. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close and about all the figuring I can handle during an approach briefing.

On the other side of visibility, this ILS is blessed with that elusive note: “RVR 1800 authorized with use of FD or AP or HUD to DA.” Run that through the Acme acronym expander and you’ll learn that you may substitute a runway visual range of 1800 feet for the published 2400 feet for the ILS approach if and only if you use a flight director, autopilot, or heads-up display all the way to the decision altitude.

For commercial operators, this can be a big deal. They can’t commence the approach if the reported visibility is too low. Some RVR reductions are only available with special authorization. This one doesn’t require that, so they have options unless their company paperwork forbids it.

General Part 91 pilots can start the approach with RVR zero if they want, and flight visibility is the final arbiter on whether you can continue from DA to the pavement, no matter what the official RVR reading is. (Although, if the RVR is 300 and you claim to have had half a mile, the FAA inspector might ask to see your X-ray spectacles.) If you get to DA and can see enough that there might be the legal visibility, I bet you’d continue. I would. With 12,000 feet of joint-use runway in front of me, there’s plenty of room to just hold steady until pitching up for a long, gentle touchdown.

Maybe you’ll need that extra bit of permission on an approach to the middle of Nebraska. It was a misty morning as we staggered into the Denny’s, so I know the weather can get low. I suppose that means I know two things about Lincoln.

Jeff Van West tells us the trip home was even more surreal, involving a female friend he pined for and her satanic Siamese cat. But that’s another story.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here