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Published by: kyoobum on May 30, 2012
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The gradient to rate conversion discussed above is primarily applicable to non-precision approaches. The
importance of the calculations demonstrated should be obvious. On a precision approach (e.g. an ILS) a
glidepath indicator directs the pilot to the runway so calculation is not as necessary. It is however
beneficial to examine the required descent rates, which we will do now.

Most precision approaches are set to a descent angle of 3°, which is a gradient of 320 ft/NM. Some
precision approaches use other gradients. Legally a precision approach can have glidepaths in the range
2.5° to 4.0°.

The above diagram shows a 3° descent, which corresponds to 320 ft/NM. This can be calculated using
basic trigonometry. Tan (3) = a/6080 (recall that 1.0NM is 6080 feet.) Using an electronic calculator a
equals 318.7, which we will round off to 320.

How many nautical miles are required for a descent of 1000 feet on an ILS? Setup the required ratio on
your CR before reading the next paragraph.

The required ratio is 320/1 = 1000/a. The answer is 3.1NM.

The above relationship is VERY IMPORTANT. However, most pilots round it off to 1000 feet per 3.0NM,
which is close enough for typical purposes and allows quick and easy calculations in your mind without
needing a CR. Below are some typical applications. Work them out based on the ratio 1000/3; if you like
you can rework them based on the more accurate 320/1 to see if the difference is significant.

The tower asks you to report 2NM on final; what altitude will you be at? Setup your CR before reading the
next paragraph.

Navigation for Professional Pilots

Page 122

The ratio is 1000/3 = a/2. You should report 2.0 final when you are 666 above ground level (note that you
can thus report 2.0 final even if your airplane is not equipped with DME.) If you had used the more precise
ratio 320/1 your answer would be 640agl. From a practical point of view reading the difference on your
altimeter and then reporting would be impossible.

You are going to intercept the glidepath at 3000agl, how far from touchdown will you be? Setup your CR
before going on.

If you set 1000/3 = 3000/a; the calculation is so simple you hardly need a CR. You will be 9.0NM from
touchdown. If you set the more precise ratio 320/1 the answer is 9.4NM. This is the actual distance, but
since your primary purpose in such calculations is usually just to keep a mental image of how far you are
from touchdown the difference between 9.0 and 9.4 is probably not significant.

You are flying an ILS approach with a groundspeed of 120 knots, what vertical speed do you require? Setup
your CR before reading the next paragraph.

The required ratio is 60/320 = 120/a. The answer is 640 fpm. This is an important calculation, but given
that positive guidance is provided by the glidepath it is really only necessary to approximate this
calculation. With your CR set to 60/320 what is the value of 1/a. Note that a equals 5.3. This ratio tells us
that we need 5.3 fpm for every knot of groundspeed. Pilots routinely round this off to 5.0. From this comes
the rule of thumb that vertical speed should be 5 x groundspeed. Using the 120 knot example we get 5 x
120 = 600 fpm. We know the correct answer is 640, but 600 fpm will get you started close enough, you
then follow the glidepath indicator, which will take you directly to the runway.

Summarizing what we have learned about flying 3° precision approaches. In order to facilitate mental
calculations while flying ILS approaches pilots use the ratio 1000/3 or 100/.3 to approximate the descent
gradient. Pilots also use the formula 5 x groundspeed to approximate the descent rate.

Use the approximations to answer the following questions without using your CR or any other calculator.

Your company SOP is to call 100 above as you approach the glidepath check altitude. You will be ____ NM
from the checkpoint when you make this call.

You will intercept a glidepath 600 feet above the glidepath check altitude. That will be _____ NM from the

Your groundspeed is 100 knots; the required descent rate is ______ fpm.

Your groundspeed is 85 knots; the required descent rate is ______ fpm.

You are 400 agl when the tower asks, “How far back” you are. Your answer is _____ NM.

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