USA’s Top 5 Visual Approaches

The wind is howling, lightning is flashing, and you are wrestling the 777 down to achieve another safe landing.  Passengers think airline pilots are crazy, adrenaline junkies that actually enjoy this “terrifying” experience.  Believe it or not, us pilots do actually like a calm, clear day every once in a while to enjoy the beautiful scenery across the U-S of A.

Sure, there are plenty of dirt strips, nestled in the Rocky Mountains or on an isolated beach that are gorgeous. One of my favorite airports of all-time to fly into was Kalaupapa Airport (PHLU) at the base of some of the highest seacliffs in the world.  The scenery of this isolated community is absolutely breathtaking, with the nicest people you will ever meet.  However, Kalaupapa is not for the faint of heart featuring a short 2700’ long strip.  If the gusty winds are favoring runway 23, you had better strap on your swimsuit as waves are known to crash against the volcanic shoreline rocks, hurling water at your airplane as you are about to touch down.

However, these meager strips won’t do you much good for landing your 400,000 pound 777 aircraft (except in an emergency).  That’s why I compiled a list of the 5 top charted visual approaches of the USA that support the 777.  These, of course, are open to debate and I welcome your feedback.


5. Bay Visual Runways 16R/C/L – Seattle-Tacoma INTL (KSEA)

Link to Chart


In 1792, explorer George Vancouver named the vast expanse of forest and glacial waters Puget Sound.  Today, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of Puget Sound and downtown Seattle in all of its majesty.  Whether you start from Commencement Bay or Hood Canal, both arrival transitions into the Bay Visual are equally visually appealing.  No matter which runway you are assigned, each will allow the captain to have a perfect view of the famous Space Needle before you turn final.


4. Quiet Bridge Visual Runways 28L/R- San Francisco INTL (KSFO)

Link to Chart


If you are lucky enough to fly into San Francisco when it is not foggy, the view of the bay area is nothing short of amazing.  At less than 2000’, you will fly over the San Mateo Bridge, the longest bridge in the bay area.  Norcal approach will make you keep your approach speed fast until you’re within a few miles of this busy airport, so take advantage of your sightseeing opportunity.  Both runways start at the shoreline so your passengers will think you are flying a float plane until the very last instant.  Please don’t make their thoughts a reality!  I hear the 777 does not float very well.


3. River Visual Runway 13- New York/ La Guardia (KLGA)

Link to Chart


On this visual approach, you will see 3 of the most famous New York sightseeing hotspots without the constant blare of cabbies.  The approach starts over the Hudson River.  Along the way, you can salute the Statue of Liberty, gaze at the towering Empire State Building, and briefly soak in the infamous Central Park before turning final for runway 13.  You had better quickly transition from sightseeing to expert pilot mode as the runway is only 7000 feet long!


2. Waialae Golf Course Visual Runway 22L- Honolulu INTL (PHNL)

Link to Chart


For my second rated visual approach, we head across the pond to the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.  Trust me, this approach is worth the trek.  You start over the crystal clear waters right before the Waialae Golf Course.  Next you basically follow the H1 freeway (the only freeway in all of the Hawaiian Islands) at a low 2000 feet to the airport.  To the right of the aircraft, you will see heavily vegetated mountains and volcanoes.  Just to the left you will see thousands of people getting a tan and hanging 5 at famous Waikiki beach.  Just below you, you will fly over downtown Honolulu and pass the nearby Aloha stadium where the NFL Pro Bowl is played most years.  Beware though when the ATIS reports winds stronger than 5 knots.  You will be in for a bumpy approach due to the mechanical turbulence off of the mountains.

1. River Visual Runway 19- Washington/Ronald Reagan Washington National (KDCA)

Link to Chart


Number one in scenery as well as difficulty is the River Visual into Washington Reagan Airport.  At first glance, it doesn’t look too tough.  You simply follow the Potomac River southeast bound to the airport.  Along the way you will enjoy the iconic Washington Monument and the capital of the United States at a low altitude of 900 feet.  Don’t fall into this trap.  Deviate slightly off course and you will be labeled a terrorist and shot down in an instant.  Fortunately for you, the flight simulator is quite a bit friendlier than real life.  Right after the Rochambeau Memorial Bridge, you will make a sharp right turn to the runway.  This can be exceptionally difficult during a crosswind at low altitude.  Also make sure you are lining up for runway 19, not nearby 15 or 22; they are very short.  When you get ready to land, you will realize that your reward for completing such a difficult approach is a runway just over 7000 feet long!  You had better be on speed and glideslope as to not overshoot the runway into the icy Potomac in the unforgiving 777.  Don’t let all of this intimidate you; the views are well worth the effort.  For those macho 777 pilots, try this approach at night for a humbling experience.


While some of the above approaches are quite challenging, the powerful 777 has been tested to operate to airports with runways as short as 6000 feet long!  That is truly amazing and unique for its weight.  I can guarantee you will never feel underpowered with the 777s humongous engines.  Enjoy these visual approaches as well as others in the 777.   I am anxious to hear your feedback!

Throttle ON!

(Image Credit)

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