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Published On: Thu, Jul 16th, 2015

VOR Approach into the Canaries

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We’ve left Morocco on our
left when Casablanca ATC calls : “Descend to Flight Level one niner
zero and contact Canarias Approach on one two niner decimal three,
ma’a salama
”.

It is a two-sector and
welcomed fifth day at work.

What’s more than a long
cruise is the opportunity to see all kinds of landscapes along the
way, coupled with some very interesting cockpit conversations.

My Captain today is a
sharp guy when it comes to flying but he manages to keep the
atmosphere nice and relaxed all through the day.

There certainly are
Captains I get on with better than others and I’d say he is one of my
favorites.
Once in a while, I’ll get to fly with a more distant
pilot who doesn’t talk much.

When you spend up to 12
hours in the same – relatively small – cockpit, you’d better
hope your colleague from the left seat will make it an enjoyable day.
Truth is, a good day mostly depends on who you’re flying with and I
speak by experience, it is not always pleasant.

The wind arrow on the
Navigation Display is pointing on the nose showing 70 kt headwind and
Canarias Approach confirms runway 21 for landing, quite unusual in
Lanzarote.

This approach differs a
lot from most VOR and NDB approaches and is classified as a
circle-to-land. In fact, the final descent is broken down in two
parts with a 2nm level segment in between.

As most non-precision
approaches, the final course doesn’t face the runway and comes to an
angle, requiring two turns at low altitude to line up with the asphalt. Because of the irregular ground, no turn is possible until we are
three miles from touchdown.

The Captain is flying and
I am pilot monitoring, assisting him throughout the whole procedure.

We spent quite a while
during the cruise briefing each step and I can feel he is as eager as
I am to fly it. He will be at the controls while I take care of the radio, navaids, FMC inputs as well as gear and flaps selection. As this is quite an unusual way to fly a VOR, we agreed that before each step I would sum up the next actions and remind him of the target speed, altitude and track.

We’re now routing towards
KLATO, the initial approach fix just off the coastline. The sea is
quite rough down below, latest winds from the automated weather
information at Lanzarote were gusting at 30 kts from the South.
Probably not the best day to enjoy some laid-back swimming on the
beach despite the warm temperatures.

Nonetheless, the view is
beautiful and we can see four out of the seven islands, the much
greener Tenerife and Grand Canaria taking shape in the background.
Tenerife’s volcano Teide is the highest peak on Spanish territories,
standing prominently at some 12,200 ft. Lanzarote, first island in the
archipelago just 5 miles North of Fuerteventura, has quite an uneven
and moon-like landscape although it doesn’t exceed 2,200 ft. All its
houses are remarkably plain white and contrast with the orange coat that graces the island (interestingly Santa Cruz in the
North part of Tenerife is one of the most colorful cities in Europe,
worth a visit if you get a chance).

Cleared for the VOR
approach runway 21 and reaching KLATO, we intercept the radial 088
inbound to LZR VOR, descending down to 3500 ft, speed reduced to 180
kts with flaps 5.

On my side, I have LTE VOR
(located on the airfield) tuned in and it is showing 13 nm when I
pull the gear down and select Flaps 15, on Captain’s command.

I can’t help but look
outside, the scenery looks surreal.

As we come closer to the
final track, I switch the captain’s navbox over to LTE VOR and we
capture by a left turn the final using LNAV (Lateral Navigation),
much more accurate than the VOR mode of the autopilot. 2800 ft is set
in the altitude window and down we go at 1000 ft/min.

9.4nm
from touchdown, we level off on a two mile segment. The Captain grabs
the altitude knob and winds it up to 5000 ft, our Missed Approach
Altitude.

8.4nm
from touchdown, I select landing flaps and complete the landing
checklist. Quick look outside, undoubtedly the view is superb and the
vibrant colors add up to that feeling.

7.4nm
from touchdown, we commence our final descent towards the runway at a
higher than average 3.7° angle.

My
eyes are scanning the speed, altitude and DME distance, ready to call
out any deviation from the intended parameters.

The
approach track is taking us right between two higher spots at around
1000 ft elevation on each side, preventing us from making any turn

outside of a 3 nm radius from the airport.

With
the sun shining a few degrees above the horizon, the ridges on our
left are lit with a truly magnificent golden light. Such an
unobstructed sight is overwhelming!

Time
to relish, the Captain disconnects the automatics and start a right
turn to catch up the runway centerline.

Due
to its nature, Lanzarote’s terrain has a rather steep continuous
downslope below our flight path and we remain close to the ground
during the last two miles before touchdown. We’re overcome by a sense
of speed as the aircraft is banked low over the ground. Left turn at
500 ft altitude – around 300 ft ground height – as
we line up with the runway. I’m always impressed by the
manoeuvrability of a 65 ton aircraft flying at 145 knots close to the
ground. I can tell the Captain is enjoying it and so am I.

400 ft,
we’re stabilized, fully established and cleared to land.

A
handful of cars are stopped on the road that surrounds the airport
and I can see a few people gathered to watch the 737 as she passes
by.

Like
us, they drink in the last drop of the sun before it slips beneath
the horizon

The
radalt’s synthetic voice starts to count down our height.

50, 

40, 

30 gentle pitch up, 

20 thrust levers back to idle, 

10, greased
touch-down on the 7800 foot overheated runway.

I call “speedbrakes up”, the autobrake system kicks in and my chest is immediately pushed
into the harnesses.

Reverses
deployed and engines spooled up to 75% N1, the 737 is shaking down
the runway in an intense roar, decelerating to vacate with taxiway E4
to the terminal.

What
a beautiful day in the Canaries.

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