VOR Approach
Courtesy of Andrew Ayers.

Today we'll be talking about the most common non-precision approach, the VOR approach. As the name implies, VOR approaches are approach procedures which use VORs as the primary navigational aid. A lot of VORs are located at the airport, but there are many which are located away from the airport. Approach procedures can be based on either. So, now that we know what VOR approaches are, let's brief our chart and then go flying... Since we've already gone over chart symbology, I'll just touch lightly on most of these things. "A" tells us that we're going to be doing the VOR (or GPS) Rwy 11R approach at Vero Beach. Because the approach is categorized with a runway number (11R), we know that the final approach segment of this approach will bring us to within 30 degrees of the extended centerline of 11R. We also see that the primary navaid is the Vero Beach VOR (VRB), it's frequency being 117.3. "B" points to VRB and we see above the ID box that this is an Initial Approach Fix (IAF). This is where we will start the approach. You will see that there are two other IAFs, both located at the start of the DME ARCs.

Since we'll be discussing DME ARCs in their own lesson, we'll skip those for now. "C" shows us our procedure turn, the course reversal we will fly to establish ourselves on course. "D" illustrates the missed approach procedure. Again, ATC will usually want to expedite your return for another approach with radar vectors, so you won't be flying a published missed very often. "E" illustrates our final approach segment and shows us our Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA). Once we pass the Final Approach Fix (FAF), we'll descend down to 380ft MSL. "E" also tells us that we need 1 mile visibility for this approach. If you look to the right of "E", you'll see the "Circle-to-Land" minimums. These are for use when the winds are favoring a different runway. If, for example, runway 4 was in use, we would only descend to 500ft MSL and then circle to land on runway 4 once it was in sight. "F" shows us our time to the Missed Approach Point (MAP) from the FAF. OK, now that we've briefed our plate, let's do this...

Today's weather is ceiling 480ft overcast, visibility 2 miles. We'll be doing the full procedure, starting at VRB. So, what we're going to do is take off from Vero Beach, climbing to 2000ft, and request the full VOR 11R approach. At that point, Center will say "9246F proceed direct Vero Beach, cleared full VOR 11R approach, contact tower 126.3 when procedure turn inbound". So, now we've tuned in VRB and turned the needle until it center TO the VOR. We're level at 2000ft and proceeding to the VOR. We see that our outbound course for the initial approach segment is 300 degrees FROM VRB, so as we pass over the VOR, we will turn the HSI/VOR needle to set the head pointing to 300 and turn to intercept the course. We're now actually on the approach, proceeding outbound. In the profile view, we see that we can also descend to 1500ft until the completion of the procedure turn. So, we'll start a descent to 1500ft (1).

Figure 1: On the procedure outbound the VOR. This is poisition "1" marked on the chart above and the map-view below.

Now, ATC didn't give us any limitations on our procedure turn. In the profile view at "C", we see it says "10 NM". This means that the procedure turn must be completed within 10 NM of the VOR. Where in that 10 NM radius it doesn't say, so we can start it right after we pass over the VOR if we like or we can extend it out if we were descending from a higher altitude. I'll go out about 3NM from the VOR before I start my turn. Now, procedure turns are a bit tricky for some, so follow closely. The purpose of this is to turn us around, heading back to the VOR and the airport, without getting us totally off course. You can see at "C" that the first turn is to a heading of 255 degrees. This is a heading, NOT a radial from a VOR. So, when I get to 3NM DME from VRB, I'll make a turn to 255 degrees and start my timer. We want to fly the procedure turn outbound for 1 minute. When 1 minute is up on our timer, we'll start a 180 degree turn to a heading of 075 degrees and then fly inbound (2). MAKE SURE to make standard rate turns (wings set on the turn index line on the turn coordinator) or else the procedure turn won't work out. At this point, we're inbound on the procedure turn, so it's time to call the tower and report where we are. The tower will then say "9246F roger, report the VOR". As we're flying inbound, I'll now set the HSI/VOR needle to our inbound course of 120 degrees.

Figure 2: Procedure turn inbound. Level at 1500, rolling out on a 075 heading. 2 Note position "2" on the chart and the map-view.

As we near our course, the needle will start to center and we'll start a turn to intercept our course. Once we're established inbound (on the inbound course), we may descend to 1000ft MSL and continue inbound to the VOR. Once we pass over the VOR (3), things get busy. It's the FAF, so let's drop the gear. As you can see on the plan view, the final approach course is 115 degrees FROM, so we need to turn the needle from 120 to 115. This is VERY important and easy to forget. In this approach, you won't hit anything. There is a similar approach in Concord, CA where, if you don't make the course change, you'll fly right into some tall antennas. Also, we need to start our descent down our MDA of 380ft MSL. As you can see, we've got 3.5 DME until the MAP, so we've got until then to get to our MDA, but the sooner the better since that will give us more time to look outside for the runway. We also need to start our timer. We'll be doing the approach at 90kts, so looking at "F", we can see that it should take us 2:20 to reach the MAP.

Figure 3: Passing VRB inbound, we start descent from 1,000 to the MDA. Track the 115 radial and level off at the MDA until runway is in sight. Note position "3" on the chart and the map-view.

We can determine the MAP with DME alone, but if the DME fails after passing the VOR, we have no way to determine the MAP if we hadn't started the timer. Also, it's important to look at "F" for each approach to see where the timer should be started. In this case, it tells us "VOR to MAP", so we start it over the VOR like I said. Finally, the tower asked us to report the VOR, so we would call them and they would say "9246F runway 11R cleared to land." Now we're done with communicating and configuring and all of our concentration is on flying. We going to level off NO LOWER than 380ft MSL and proceed along course until reaching the MAP, looking up every few seconds for the runway. Hopefully we would get the runway in sight before reaching the MAP. If not, we would immediately begin the missed approach upon reaching the MAP, calling the tower to let them know we're going missed. In this case however, we've got the runway just in sight, so we'll continue the approach and make a normal landing.

Figure 4: At MDA, runway in sight, we continue the descent and land. Note position "4" on the chart and the map-view.

See how easy that was? Next time, NDB approaches. These will take a little more instrument savvy, so brush up on your ADF use. Have fun!!


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