Airline flying is supposed to be uneventful, one might even say boring. So airline pilots, at least, have to seek fulfillment in the more cerebral elements of flying, like ILS approaches in low visibilities in rain or snow at night. Occasionally, however, a legitimate procedure comes along that brings with it the spice of an extra challenge or two. There are fewer and fewer of these in the modern world of commercial aviation, as the industry seeks to corral all flying into an ever more standardized mold. But the approach most people are at least mildly familiar with is the famous Canarsie approach at JFK.
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Airline flying is supposed to be uneventful, one might even say boring. So airline pilots, at least, have to seek fulfillment in the more cerebral elements of flying, like ILS approaches in low visibilities in rain or snow at night. Occasionally, however, a legitimate procedure comes along that brings with it the spice of an extra challenge or two. There are fewer and fewer of these in the modern world of commercial aviation, as the industry seeks to corral all flying into an ever more standardized mold.
But the approach most people are at least mildly familiar with is the famous Canarsie approach at JFK. This approach is something of a unique animal in the world of aviation. It is neither a circling approach nor, strictly speaking, a straight—in approach. For all practical purposes, it is a charted visual approach with less than VFR minimums. Just as in any VOR approach, you follow a course until you come to a point and altitude at which you must see something to proceed farther.
In this case, however, what you see is not the runway at least not at minimum visibility! In those days, when the winds were such as to require the use of the 13s which generally meant fairly strong out of the south or southeast the accepted procedure was to fly the ILS approach to runway 04R, and circle the long way around to runway 13L. This involved leveling off on the 04R localizer at circling minimums, usually around feet or so AGL, flying across the airport right above 04R, and then making a left turn to a left downwind leg for 13L.
At the appropriate time another series of left turns was commenced that would, in due course, lead the big jet to the final approach. Overall, this involved about degrees of heading change in at least two and usually three turning maneuvers, at low altitude, often in conditions of marginal visibility, in an airplane that, at that time, even the captain was relatively unfamiliar with.
Actually, we should say especially the captain, because most of the very senior captains who were bidding the left seats of these new jets had started out in open cockpits! The was their first exposure to the high speeds and sluggish responses of the early jets. The copilots, on the other hand, might possibly have had some prior experience in a jet bomber or fighter in the military, and often had a better grasp of jet operations than the old man did!
Circling approaches like this in jet airplanes have always been something of a dicey proposition at best, and they are actually frowned upon or outright forbidden today. In they were more common, but problems became apparent almost as soon as the s and DC-8s began flying the pattern. Any circling approach is actually a visual maneuver, albeit performed most often in less than VFR conditions, and requires positive and continuous visual contact with the airport for safe completion.
At the speeds the was flying, it was extremely difficult to remain close enough to the airport to keep the landing runway in sight. The jets usually wound up quite a bit farther from the runway than did the DC-7s or Constellations, and several of them actually got dangerously low while trying to keep the airport in sight off to the left. There was yet another factor that reared its head, a largely political factor — noise.
The early s were as noisy as the later Concorde, and they spread this noise over a large area because of their speed. And, if noise alone were not enough, these jets spewed out vast quantities of greasy black smoke at the high power settings required to maintain altitude while configured for landing. The residents of the relatively well-to-do areas to the north and northeast of IDL were not long in launching protest after protest to their political minions.
The airlines and the FAA began to cast about for a way to satisfy both the political noise problem and the safety problem inherent in the circling approach. The Belt Parkway, which was built between the wars, follows the shore of Jamaica Bay from just east of Coney Island to the vicinity of the airport.
It is six lanes wide, and hard to miss even in reduced visibility. And, importantly, the area in the vicinity of the Belt was nowhere near as developed in as it is today. Here seemed to be the answer to both the noise problem and the safety problem.
Nothing in New York gets done quickly, of course, and it took nearly two years of studies, coordination, negotiation, and demonstration to get things worked out. Test flights using an AA were eventually approved and several flights were made in VFR conditions to prove that a could, in fact, fly along the Belt Parkway and land on 13L.
A system of lead-in lights was built and is still in use today. Three sets of sequenced flashers guide aircraft around the northern edge of the bay and right over the JFK Hotel. When the approach was approved and put into use, the minimums were set at feet ceiling and 3 miles visibility. The total degrees of direction change for the entire approach from Canarsie is around 90 degrees, and this occurs over a distance of more than five miles. The final turn from Aqueduct Racetrack to the runway is only around 45 degrees of heading change, and rarely requires more than 15 degrees of bank unless the winds are gale force or the pilot starts the turn a bit late.
Contrast this with a series of 90 degree turns performed at low altitude with no outstanding visual references over neighborhoods that all look the same. Small wonder that the Canarsie approach has achieved such universal acceptance over the years. Any pilot who flies into JFK regularly has flown this approach many times. Unless there is a considerable tailwind, feet per minute will do nicely.
In VMC without anyone between you and the airport, you could stay clean until CRI itself, at a speed of somewhere around knots. There is enough time after CRI to configure, although doing so in real IMC conditions would put a considerable strain on both pilots, as things begin to happen very quickly! After CRI is crossed, a descent can commence to the minimum altitude of feet. A normal descent around feet per minute need not commence until a mile or two past CRI.
This will prevent level flight with gear and a lot of flaps, and keep things quieter on the ground. After all, as I indicated above, the area along the Belt Parkway has gotten a great deal more crowded in the past 45 years. Once you arrive at the Belt parkway, just turn right and follow it, keeping it just off to the left.
Aside from the parkway itself, Aqueduct racetrack is the principal landmark on the approach, and you normally plan to pass just to the south of it as the final turn begins toward the runway, now off to the right. The VASIs on the right side of 13L are conveniently aimed not down the localizer, but off to the west, and you can see them clearly from Aqueduct. They will provide vertical guidance from there on in.
As you cross the hotel, the roof of which hosts the last string of lead-in lights, you will be rolling out on final. In IMC, which is to say less than and 3, it is a good idea to be at least partially configured crossing ASALT, probably flaps 5 or 15 on a and around knots. At CRI you would want to have the gear down and flaps 20 on a After CRI you would want to descend right away, to get below the clouds and see the lead-in lights as soon as possible.
With the minimum visibility of two miles you will see two strings of lead-in lights at any given moment beyond DMYHL, in addition to the parkway itself, and following them around to the hotel is not terribly demanding. It is possible to land on 13R from the Canarsie approach, and this is often done by airlines whose terminals lie on the southwest side of the field.
The turn to 13R is a little tighter than for the left side, but not alarmingly so, and can be done with no more than 25 degrees of bank.
The reason for this is that the landing threshold of 13R is several thousand feet down the pavement, so you are not actually aiming for the end of the concrete!
Since our terminal is closer to 13L, I hardly ever used 13R. One of the several times in my career that I did so was at the end of my line requalification after returning to the airline from a month stint of military active duty during Desert Storm. It was night, and the weather was good — good enough for us to see that the that had been cleared for takeoff on 13R which is always the primary departure runway had been quite slow to commence his takeoff roll.
As we rolled out on final approach around one mile from the runway itself he finally began to pick up speed. Since the first feet of this runway is off limits for landing, we were flying right through his turbulent exhaust, which made control a bit of a physical exercise!
In addition, because it is verboten, except in an emergency, to actually touch down on a piece of concrete currently occupied by another set of tires, I had to hold us off the runway until he actually got airborne. In other circumstances, a go-around would have been in order, but the check airman agreed with my hastily verbalized assessment that to go belly-up to an airplane whose assigned heading was unknown to us would be more risky.
Better to keep him in sight. With almost 15, feet of runway in play, it was really no problem — just a matter of keeping us about three feet in the air until he broke ground. Just another night at the office. And lo and behold, with all of that practice in the flare, the landing was exceptionally smooth.
Well, you know what they say about that blind squirrel! Before too long, the Canarsie approach will have some sort of three-dimensional GPS overlay, with both lateral and vertical guidance. Safer, perhaps, but much less gratifying. The new generation of pilots will likely couple up the magic, and let Otto do all the work, never realizing that he is also having all of the fun. Too bad: they may not know what they will be missing.
Tony, I have always wondered about this approach, so often written about in books by some of my favorite authors, especially North Star Over My Shoulder by Robert N. If you are reading this blog and have never read this book you are truly missing out on one of the best written stories of flying from DC 2s to s. Fabulous book! Buy it today! So much it can teach any pilot while being completely entertained. I have looked in my Jepps and Foreflight more than once and have never found the Canarsie, and I thought it had been decommissioned.
Great story! That makes it very interesting. It is not uncommon for it to be in use with south winds of 10 or 15 knots at the surface, often resulting in a slightly wide turn over the Aquaduct, and it can be amusing to watch wide bodied aircraft recover from this turn onto final for a crosswind landing.
There is a wonderful story out there, the truth of which I have no idea, about an Aeroflot pilot, whose voice was never heard in the old days because he had an English speaking radio operator, jumping in to add his rather salty opinion of the approach as he rolled out on final….
I am privileged to have an autographed copy on my bookshelf. Thank you Tony for bringing back the wonderful memories of the beginning of my love affair with commercial aviation. That is the next area in Brooklyn just past Canarsie. Still love going spotting I have thousand of digital photos of airliners to this day. Thanks for the great history lesson, which is very well written.
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The modern version of the Canarsie approach. On this occasion we had a jumpseat rider who agreed to double as crew photographer! Aqueduct racetrack is off to the left, out of the picture, as JFK approaches ahead. Now straightened out on short final, coming up on the th street entry road.
This is where the winds will start to get squirrely, if they are going to. Bio Latest Posts.
John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport (New York, NY) JFK IFR-Karten
Thanks jasonrosewell MrMrMan! Again, great job Ethan. Appreciate the hard work and commitment to trying to do it realistically! This is not my fault. If you were Visual or RV then I could hand you off earlier. I will look up the tower and shoot him a PM, I was only asking if there was cross communications.
John F Kennedy Intl
I am manager airline safety investigation. Attached are excerpts from the investigation report into an incident involving one of our aircraft following the offset localizer approach into runway 22R at jfk. Several safety issues were idented with regard to the crew lack of situational awareness during the approach; some of which pertained to the layout of approach information on commercial charts and to the jfk airport poor lighting facilities for runway 22R. At the time of the occurrence; the crew was not aware that the localizer was offset and they believed that the crab attitude of the aircraft was due to the crosswind. As the aircraft continued on localizer; crossed the runway centerline and continued descending to the left of the runway; it became apparent to the crew that there was something wrong and they initiated a go around.
John F. Kennedy International Airport
No Hangar Network listings are currently available for this airport. Public PUB. View on Map. Status Operational. Elevation 13' MSL. Pattern Alt ' MSL.
Visual or instrument approach? This one is both
However, there are some exceptions — places which present pilots with unusual challenges like a steeper approach, turns at a low altitude, difficult terrain, curl-overs or a particularly short runway. The airspace above New York City is one of the busiest in the world. Kennedy International, JFK. The airports are too close together to ensure a safe separation of aircraft. Pilots would approach the runway at a degree angle from a south-westerly direction, past Brooklyn.
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