Fly the Visual Approach, Backed Up by the ILS

How often do you shoot an instrument approach? Chances are that it is not very often. Most of us have the good sense to stay out of the weather when conditions are marginal. Furthermore, in most parts of the world, the weather is usually conducive to a visual approach. This is good news for VFR pilots, but it can make the instrument rated aviator more than a bit rusty.


To polish your skills, consider maximizing your use of an airport’s instrument approach system.

Airline pilots do this sort of thing on nearly every flight. When the ATIS indicates a visual approach is in use, flight crews typically brief that “this will be a visual, backed up by the ILS.” This means that we will plan on making a visual approach, while preparing for the instrument approach. This dual visual/instrument approach has several advantages.


First, the pilot’s situational awareness is boosted by the use of radio aids. We’ve all lost sight of the runway at some time or another, but a quick check of the localizer needle can provide an at-a-glance reassurance that you haven’t blown through the final approach course! Furthermore, GPS systems can be configured to display instrument approaches (and even visual approaches in some cases) as an extended centerline miles away from the runway. So long as you can fly the airplane to that line and make the turn, you ought to find the runway right in front of the nose.

Another advantage of backing up the visual with an instrument approach is that it simultaneously sharpens both visual and instrument skills. By monitoring the CDI and glideslope indicator, the pilot is more likely to maintain the perfect site-picture for a stellar landing (so long as speed control is right on!). Furthermore, the pilot’s mind will be forced to interpret and understand localizer and/or glideslope indications, leading to greater skill and confidence when landing in actual instrument conditions.

For IFR traffic operating into busy towered airports, it is strongly recommended that pilots be prepared for the most likely instrument approach as controllers may issue clearances and speed restrictions to specific approach fixes. For example, a pilot may be “cleared for the visual 18L, maintain 140 knots to RONEE, contact tower 119.7 at RONEE.” The prepared pilot will already have configured for the ILS and is already in a position to identify RONEE without scrambling for charts in a high-workload environment.

It is important to note that backing up a visual approach with an instrument approach is not the same thing as flying an actual instrument approach. These approaches cannot be logged as instrument approaches for the sake of maintaining currency unless it is done under a training hood with a qualified safety pilot.

At all times, the pilot should keep in mind that he is flying a visual approach, which does not have a published missed approach procedure. In the event of a go-around, entering the traffic pattern would be the appropriate maneuver unless otherwise directed by air traffic control.


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

3 Replies to Fly the Visual Approach, Backed Up by the ILS

  1. Nice one…

    It’s definitely a good idea for weekend warriors to stay on top of their instrument skills before they begin to rust. I stopped flying for a month and was surprised at how awful my ILS approaches were.

  2. Kelly Brown says:

    Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

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