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Uncontrolled airport procedures

There are a very large number of uncontrolled aerodromes in Canada where no control tower operates. Also, some controlled aerodromes are uncontrolled at certain hours, if tower closes. For example the CFS may indicate the control tower is closed from 0000 to 0600 daily, so you’ll have to follow uncontrolled procedures during that time period. If you’re not being directed by air traffic control (ATC), you’ll need to know how to plan your approach. It’s important to think of the approach procedure in advance, visualizing it before you go.  Make sure you do this. Try visualizing using “chair flying” at home before you head out.   

At some uncontrolled aerodromes with an appreciable amount of traffic, Transport Canada may assign a Mandatory Frequency (MF) or Aerodrome Traffic Frequency (ATF) that you must use. Make sure you have these frequencies ready when you plan to land at one of these uncontrolled airports. When an MF or ATF is designated, it applies to an area with about a 5 NM radius, so when you’re in that radius, make sure you’re active and listening on that frequency. Also, it’s illegal to operate NORDO (with no radio) in an area with an ATF or MF.  I’m not sure why someone would want to fly without a radio anyhow, it sort of makes me nervous! 

Unless otherwise indicated, assume all circuits are left-hand and plan for those accordingly.

How to plan your approach

First, you must exchange communication through one of these frequencies, ATF or MF if applicable, if not, a Flight Service Station (FSS) or through the Universal Communications frequency (UNICOM). You’ll need to check your Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) and Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) for current requirements. 

You’ll need to make five radio calls:

  1. Report 5 minutes out your location, approach procedure, and estimated time over the field;
  2. Report when crossing midfield (this is done 500 feet over circuit altitude, generally 1500 AGL). This is to inspect the runway to ensure it’s suitable for landing and do a wind sock check to choose the appropriate runway direction. This is know what type of landing you need to plan, and try to have as much headwind as possible, or if you need to plan a cross wind landing;
  3. Report when joining downwind leg;
  4. On final,
  5. Then lastly, report when clear of active runway after landing.

This image, from Transport Canada, outlines it nicely: 

Circuit procedures for uncontrolled airspace
Circuit procedures for uncontrolled airspace


Also see VFR procedures at uncontrolled airports diagram by Transport Canada, it’s very helpful. 

Departure procedures

Departure procedures are simple. You’ll also need to broadcast your intentions, of course, and climb to circuit altitude, typically 1000′ AGL, before making any turns. 

Did you know?

CARS, Canadian Aviation Regulations state you’re not allowed to overfly an aerodrome less than 2000 feet above that aerodrome. Just something to note when planning cross country flights. 

I fly out of a very busy airport, Springbank (CYBW), near Calgary, which is usually number 6 or 7 busiest in Canada for aircraft movements. To fly out of Springbank, you’ll need to talk to ground, inner tower, outer tower, then Calgary Terminal, before being cleared enroute. So, flying into a much quieter uncontrolled aerodrome is strangely quiet, and takes some getting used to. 

Do you prefer towered or non-towered airports, and why? Comment below.

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737 aborts midlanding in extreme wind

enter air boeing 737 salzberg austria

Tense moments leading up to a tricky approach and landing at Salzberg airport in Austria on October 29.

The Polish Enter Air Boeing 737, arriving from Frankfurt, is on approach very gusty winds and highly technical crosswind conditions and unable to make a smooth touchdown following a storm. The storm, called Storm Herwart, had just passed through the area and caused severe weather in Germany and Poland this week.  

The 737 makes a highly technical approach through what look like severe gusty crosswinds, putting the plane in a crab at first, and straightening it out on short final. The crew of this Polish airline was attempting to land on 9000 foot long runway 33, with with winds reported at 270 at 26 gusting 46. The crosswind component was at 60 degrees. After a circling approach, a wind gust nearly drove the wing into the ground. 

The plane bounced off the runway as a strong gust caused the right wing to drop, and looks like at this moment, the pilots decide to overshoot, and initiate take off right away.

Another attempt at landing was not made, and the Boeing headed back to Frankfurt. This looks like the airplane narrowly averted disaster. Two airplanes behind the Boeing decided to go around after receiving the wind shear alert on short final. 


This must have been a scary and intense experience especially for the passengers. Amazingly, the approach was filmed by one of the passenger, which makes for some really interesting footage. It’s interesting to see it from this perspective as well. You can really get a sense of how hard the touchdown was, and the imminent overshoot. The video was shot by passenger Manfred Ortel.

The Boeing returned to Salzberg in about an hour and landed without incident. 

Read more about crosswind landings here and see more videos about difficult crosswind landings


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Space Shuttle launch and landing

This amazing footage shows the launch of the last space shuttle, the Atlantis, the last space shuttle to fly and marks the completion of the Space Shuttle program. The shuttle was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 8 2011.  The space shuttle is now retired. Different vehicles are now used to access space, including the Russian capsule Soyuz and the Orion. More vehicles are being considered and being tested.

The footage of this space shuttle  is very cool and shows some key phases during a mission, the launch, docking, approach and landing. As an extra bonus, it’s set to some pretty cool music. Make sure you have the music up for this video.

Have you ever wondered how the space shuttle comes back to earth? After approaching through atmosphere, the shuttle was flown very much like an airplane, with some pretty major differences in scale. The shuttle, with a heavy, rectangular body, huge nose cone and shorty, stubby wings is not very aerodynamic and essentially drops like a brick on approach. It takes roughly 3 and a half minutes to descent from 37,000 feet at a descent rate of 10,000 feet per minute. 

A flying brick

A typical descent path for an airliner is 3 degrees, but the shuttle is so heavy and produces so much drag, they use a 20 degree glide slope flown at 345 miles per hour with a descent rate of 10,000 feet per minute. To give you the immense difference of scale, a typical airliner will use a descent rate of 750 feet per minute flown at about 165 miles per hour. 

The shuttle touches down at around 200 knots (225 miles per hour), faster than the flown speed on descent of an airliner. 

In fact, NASA astronauts train in a modified Gulfstream II jet which simulates how unaerodynamic the space shuttle actually is. It flies with it’s landing gear down and engines in reverse. 

The landing gear doesn’t even go down until 300 feet before touchdown! The pilots only have one shot at landing; there is no fuel or power for a go around. The landing is simply a forced approach.

How exactly does the shuttle approach earth?

Interested in more information about the approach and landing? This video explains it really well, and is very entertaining. I’ve enjoyed watching this one a few times. Enjoy!

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Video of extreme airport approach and landing in Iceland

In keeping with a theme of amazing approaches, check out the latest we dug up. This one is to a small airport in the remote western fjords region in Iceland, in a Fokker 50 turboprop operated by Air Iceland.

This airport, Isafjordur in Iceland, (IFJ) is not for the faint of heart. You land on a runway that is positioned on one side of a fjord, which commands a u-turn that essentially wraps up the base leg and final leg in one turn.  There is no time to fly base – it’s downwind direct to final!

The airport serves the largest town in the Westfjords region of Iceland. It is only 8 feet (2 meters) above sea level and runways 08/26 are 4500′ long (1500 meters). There are definitely no right turns after departure from 08, and no left turns from 26.  An expedited left turn is required right after departure from 08.   Looks like an airport you wouldn’t want to go into on a day of low visibility, which probably happens often in this area considering it’s in the steep fjords right next to the ocean.

A Fokker 50 turboprop operated by Air Iceland.
A Fokker 50 turboprop operated by Air Iceland.

The aircraft in this video is a Fokker 50 turboprop, the model came into service in 1985 and is currently out of production.  Iceland Air has six of these airplanes in service.







See another amazing approach from Milford Sound, New Zealand and an instrument approach to Queensland, also New Zealand.  It seems like airports in the fjords make for the best approach videos.


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How to land in a crosswind

Crosswind landings are one of the most frightening thing to learn for student pilots.  For me, crosswind landings were one of the most challenging manoeuvres and probably took me the longest to perform proficiently.  This is because they absolutely have to be mastered – you simply cannot fly and not be able to do this. But also with cross wind landings, experience is everything, and the more you do these the better you will be at them, and the more comfortable you will feel.

In the beginning when you are only flying with your instructor (dual), they make sure you are very comfortable and proficient at cross wind take offs and landings. Though on your first solo it is highly unlikely you will be sent up in any crosswind, you have to be prepared.   What if the surface wind changes when you are in the air?  You are on your own.

There are two basic cross wind landing techniques. They are:

  1. Side Slip (or wing-low) landing
  2. The Crab

The Side Slip

The most popular cross wind landing technique and the easiest is the side slip (different than a forward slip).  This is the first one you will encounter when you are learning. In fact, in North American for flight training the side slip is preferred and the crab is largely ignored, until you get into more advanced training and more complex aircraft. The nice thing with a side slip is that the longitudinal axis of the aircraft is already aligned with the runway, so there is no need to straighten out the aircraft before touchdown. This makes the procedure slightly less overwhelming then a a crab.

Cross wind landing techniques. Image from Flying Magazine.
Cross wind landing techniques. Image from Flying Magazine.

In a side slip, the longitudinal axis of the aircraft should be aligned with the runway and one wing, the upwind wing will be pointed down.  To enter into a side slip, dip your upwind wing down into the wind, and apply opposite rudder sufficient enough to keep you aligned with the runway and from turning.  You will have to adjust the amount of bank required to keep you flying in a straight line.  Too much bank and the plane will move into the wind, too little and it will drift with the wind.

You hold these inputs until the flare, and hold off until the airplane is landed in exactly your approach configuration: you will land on the upwind wheel first.  This is awkward at first, but this is usually brief as the downwind wing follows soon after.

Remember that when we are landing we have to use right rudder to counteract left turning tendencies, so anticipate this and factor it into the amount of rudder you will need when both wheels are on the ground.

Wind gusts will make it more challenging

When the wind is gusty, you will have to adjust your inputs to keep you on track.  This is a tricky thing to learn and takes some time.  If you practice often, you will get a good feel of how to keep the aircraft under control in gusty conditions.

The challenge with side slips is they don’t work for all aircraft types, whereas the crab works for all aircraft.  They are also not suitable for instrument approaches (ILS) or gliding for range.

The Crab

The crab is more advanced because the configuration has to be changed just prior to touchdown.  In the figure above note that your aircraft is not pointing straight in a crab approach – it is not aligned with the runway. This means that prior to touchdown, you have to release the rudder inputs to avoid cross loading the landing gear.

To enter a crab,  point the nose into the wind and maintain wings level.  Your nose will be pointed into the wind, unlike a slip, and your wings will not be dipped but level. Just prior to your wheels touching the ground,  remove the drift and use the rudder to align properly with the runway.

As you can imagine, it is more challenging simply because your heading and track are offset and you must quickly straighten the airplane at the proper moment.  When judging when to straighten the airplane out, it is better to do it too early than too late. It takes a bit of time for the airplane to be sufficiently affected by the drift to cause you serious problems. If you remove them too late, you will have a much bigger problem where you can cross load the landing gear, possibly damaging it, or worse.  Use wind aileron throughout the roll.

Crab landing in an airliner. Image courtesy of The
Crab landing in an airliner. Image courtesy of The


This photo is an example of a fairly extreme crosswind landing.  If the wind is causing this jet to crab so steeply, you can imagine that it is too strong and unsuitable for a smaller aircraft.

What about flaps?

Typically, it’s a good idea to always use flaps on approach, except in the case of a strong crosswind. The increased surface area of the wing just gives the crosswind more opportunity to blow you around, and when the crosswind is strong, don’t use flaps, or use less flaps in a moderate crosswind.

How about a crosswind takeoff?

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Top ten reasons why you should never learn how to fly

Flying? Boring! Why would I ever want to do it? Aside from being expensive and time consuming,  it’s also pointless. Why would I want to shoot around the sky in a metal tube?  It just seems like a poor use of time. Seriously, only those with poor judgement would consider getting a pilots’ license.  There are just so many reasons why you should never do it, but here are the top ten that I could think of.

1.  The view sucks.  Why would I want to see the world from 3000 AGL?  I have such a hard time picking out my house from the plane, it’s so much easier if I’m driving around in my car.  The world just looks so big from the air and it’s really not that interesting.  I’m just not interested in seeing the bigger picture.

These guys are always bossing us pilots around. You'd think they own the airspace or something.
These guys are always bossing us pilots around. You’d think they own the airspace or something.

2.  Airports are boring.  Nothing interesting happens at airports. Seriously, flight schools talk about teaching you soft field landings and precautionary/forced landings, but never actually let you do them, always forcing you to return to the airport. How about some danger? I’ve seen Top Gun – I’m ready!

3.  Air Traffic Controllers are bossy.  They constantly tell you what to do and they talk so fast that you can barely understand them most of the time.  And they always tell you to switch frequencies and get upset if you don’t call them.

4.  Too many calculations. You really have to learn how to flight plan to learn how tedious and pointless it is.  Just point the airplane in the direction you want to go – how much harder does it have to be, people? Fuel, schmuel. I’ll just keep an eye on the fuel gauge like I do when I drive. What could possibly go wrong?

5.  No in-flight entertainment.  Unless you count your instructor, there is no real source of entertainment when you’re flying.  No movies, TV, music or anything. No hot coffee. The service stinks.  Why would I want to sit in an old uncomfortable 30 year old Cessna when I can comfortably stretch my legs out on the couch like a human being.  When I stretch my legs out in the Cessna I just end up hitting the rudder pedals, which causes yaw and I have to do more work to correct it.  Can’t relax in the thing for a second.

6.  Flight instructors are annoying.  They are always telling you what to do and bossing you around. It’s worse than ATC because you can’t really get away from them.  Once you leave the control zone you are free of the claws of terminal control but you can’t get rid of your instructor once you let them in the plane with you.  They really don’t know that much … How much can there possibly be to know??

7. Too much safety emphasis.   Do you know how long it takes to prepare to actually go on a flight that lasts less than an hour? About two hours. Checklists, meetings, briefings, log books, journey log books, sheesh. So much paperwork and so many safety checks. I mean, did you know when you’re at the hold short line that you have to check your engine is operating? It started, so why do you need to check it again? Obviously it’s working and the plane is ready to go.  If it wasn’t it wouldn’t start. Obviously.

8.  Trainer planes are old.   Trainer planes are so old, I think they must have been built when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  They are loud and uncomfortable.

9.  It’s too hard.  The instrument panel in your car has only a few sources of information: speed, fuel quantity, engine temperatures and some have a tachometer.  The most basic airplane panel has six highly confusing instruments which are really hard to understand, ever mind all the other engine instruments, radios, direction finding equipment, navigation tools, approach systems, and the little floaty thing on the dash.  There are so many maneuvers, attitudes and movements too learn, it’s just seems like way to much work.

10.  It’s scary.  The whole concept of flying just seems like a bad idea.  There are just too many planes of movement.  It’s not that rewarding, and not really fun to be in control of the thing.   Constant briefings, meetings, exams, preparations, paperwork and safety checks.  Soaring through the air?  Make a career out of it? Seriously why bother. I’d rather just sit on the couch eating chips.

We hope you had a good laugh reading this.

Sarcasm aside, ever try to talk yourself out of getting a license?  So many reasons. The fact is that flying is hard, committing wonderful and very rewarding.  Like many things in life, if it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing.   Challenge yourself and don’t give up.  Search your soul and if you discover flying is right for you, you will have the time of your life and you will not regret it!