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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Flying the River Visual into Washington National

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The Washington Monument, the White House, the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool, the Watergate Hotel, the Pentagon, and the world's most unintentionally violated prohibited airspace... all of these are only one short flight away. Only one short illegal flight unless you're a scheduled airline, that is, thanks to the "enhanced" security around Washington, D.C. after September 11, 2001.

Fortunately, we have flight simulators. Flight simulators let us practice old skills, acquire new ones, and rehearse approaches for free in a not-for-keeps environment. We can record our own videos and instant replays (I have a short video on that on the Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel) to go back an analyze what we did well and what we still need to improve on, and we can do it without fear of failing because no one is judging us except ourselves.

Nonetheless, probably one of most fun things about flight simulators is that we can use them to go places we'd never be able to go, whether it be because of time, money, or, in the case of flying into Washington-National, it being prohibited.

So I did just that recently. Although my daily life as an airline pilot has me based at Washington-Dulles, I have to fly in through DCA pretty regularly when all the direct flights to Dulles are full. As a happy coincidence, while I was planning my videos on flying the River Visual to 19 at DCA, I ended up in the cockpit jumpseat on a day the crew was flying that same approach in real life.

I was pleased to see that they flew it in real life the same way I had planned it in flight simulator. The first video goes into the details of planning it: laying out the route, picking navigational aids (in this case, a VOR) to help verify we're flying the route we planned, determining a good descent rate to use on the way in, etc.

Reader Bonus: Here's a tip I didn't have a chance to put in either video due to time constraints of the Five Minute Flight Lesson format: when planning descents in a 172, a rough rule of thumb is that you'll get about 100 feet per minute for every 100 RPM of throttle reduction. For example, if you're cruising at 2400 RPM and want a 500 foot per minute descent, set the power to approximately 1900 RPM. When you reduce the throttle, the nose will naturally lower on its own to maintain the airspeed you had it trimmed for Let the plane seek it—don't hold the nose up unless you're trying to slow down! Every plane has its own rough guide, so experiment with your particular aircraft and see what its power/descent ratio is. With just a little experimentation you'll make your flying life much easier!

In the second part, we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor and actually fly the plan. Along the way, you get to see some pictures I took while the crew took care of the flying.

Naturally, the second part has more views. In actuality, though, the first one is more important. Sure, the second video has a well-executed approach and has more pretty scenes, but it went so well (and, like almost all my videos, it was done in one take; no trying over and over again until I got it right) only because of all the work that went into planning it. Everything in the first video enabled the second video to take place. Peak performance comes from prior planning.

In flying, and in life, plan your flight and fly your plan!

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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