Thursday, 27 June 2013

VOR Approach into the Canaries

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.
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.