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Coupled Approaches

in Automated Flight Control

The approach function is similar to the navigation mode, but flies the selected course with the higher degree of precision necessary for instrument approaches and allows glideslope tracking in the vertical dimension. Most autopilots feature a separate button that allows you to engage the approach function, as shown in Figure 4-14. (NOTE: Usually, this mode is not used with most GPS receivers. The GPS approach RNP (required navigation performance) of 0.3 induces the necessary flight tracking precision. This mode is used only if specifically stated as a command in the avionics handbook for that equipment in that aircraft).

Figure 4-14. Flying a coupled nonprecision approach.

Figure 4-14. Flying a coupled nonprecision approach.

Like the navigation function, the approach mode can be used to execute precision and nonprecision approaches that rely on types of ground-based navigation facilities (e.g., VOR, VOR/DME, and localizer approaches).

ILS Approaches

Coupled ILS approaches make use of the autopilot’s glideslope function. Figure 4-15 shows the procedure for one type of autopilot.

Figure 4-15. Flying a coupled precision approach.

Figure 4-15. Flying a coupled precision approach.

Note that you cannot directly arm or engage the glideslope function. The autopilot must usually be engaged first in the approach and altitude modes. When the FD/autopilot begins to sense the glideslope, the glideslope function will automatically arm. When the aircraft intercepts the glideslope, the glideslope function engages automatically, and uses the aircraft’s pitch control to remain on the glideslope. It is important to note that, generally, the glideslope function can capture the glideslope only from below or on glideslope.

RNAV Approaches With Vertical Guidance

Coupled RNAV approaches with vertical guidance work in the same way as coupled ILS approaches. Lateral and vertical guidance commands are generated by the FMS/NAV and sent to the FD/autopilot. The same approach and glideslope functions of the autopilot are used in the same way to carry out the lateral and vertical guidance and control of the aircraft. This process is transparent to the pilot. Most “VNAV” functions do not qualify as approach vertical functions and many FMS/GPS units inhibit that function during approaches.

Power Management

Since most autopilots are not capable of manipulating power settings, you must manage the throttle to control airspeed throughout all phases of the approach. The power changes needed during altitude changes must supply the necessary thrust to overcome the drag. The pilot must coordinate the powerplant settings with the commands given to the FD/ autopilot. Remember, the FD/autopilot can control the aircraft’s pitch attitude only for altitude or airspeed, but not both. The FD/autopilot attempts to perform as programmed by you, the pilot. If the climbing vertical speed selection is too great, the aircraft increases the pitch attitude until it achieves that vertical speed, or the wing stalls. Selection of an airspeed or descent rate that is too great for the power selected can result in speeds beyond the airframe limitations. Leveling off from a descent, without restoring a cruise power setting results in a stall as the FD/autopilot attempts to hold the altitude selected.

Essential Skills

  1. Use the FD/autopilot to couple to a precision approach.
  2. Use the FD/autopilot to couple to a nonprecision approach.
  3. Use the FD/autopilot to couple to an RNAV approach.
  4. Determine the power setting required to fly the approaches.
  5. Determine the power settings necessary for leveloff during nonprecision approaches and go-around power settings for both precision and nonprecision approaches.
  6. Determine the speeds available for the minimum recommended powerplant settings. It is useful to determine if an ATC clearance can be accepted for climbs, altitudes, and descents.


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