Circling Approach

Gulfstream GVII

Eddie sez:

Circling at minimums can get you killed so know the minimums, raise those minimums when you can, and take advantage of the PlaneView cockpit.

The Circling Approach Rules of Engagement are fairly complex and are listed under Circling Approach. There you will learn about approach categories, the circling approach area, required obstacle clearance, and a few math-based techniques. It also gives a few examples: KJFK, KMEM, KTEB and KMDW.

The approach categories, maximum speeds, clearance areas, and some of the procedures are different under ICAO. View US versus ICAO Procedures under Approach Category, Maximum Speeds, Circle Area Radius, and Circling Missed Approach Procedures.

Everything here is from the references shown below, with a few comments in an alternate color.

Last revision:


Approach Category

The GVII is either a Category C aircraft or a Category D aircraft, depending on the approach speed. See Approach Categories.

I recommend you never circle this airplane using Category C minimums because a stable approach is impossible given Category C speeds and turn radii.

See Stabilized Approach for the math behind this.

Basic Procedure

Unlike previous Gulfstreams, there isn't really a specified procedure other than the understanding it will be done like in previous Gulfstreams. So that's what I have here.


Figure: Circling approach, from G450 Airplane Operating Manual, §06-05-30, Figure 2.

[G450 Airplane Operating Manual §06-05-30]

  1. Pattern entry: airspeed 200 knots, review approach and missed approach procedure, review VREF and go-around power, set radios and nav display, set marker receiver on, check crossing altitude fix.
  2. The circling maneuver may be initiated from either a precision or non-precision instrument approach procedure and must be conducted entirely by external visual references. A normal instrument approach is flown until visual contact with the runway environment or to the Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA). As the circling maneuver is not an instrument maneuver, sufficient visual references to maneuver the aircraft to a landing must be maintained at all times.

    Maneuvering may begin once within 2.3 nm (Category D) or 1.7 nm (Category C).

  3. Outbound turn: complete in-range checklist or appropriate checklist, PF calls for Flaps 10°, airspeed 180 knots.
  4. Inbound turn: PF calls for landing gear down & flaps 39°, airspeed set to VREF+5 knots, complete Before Landing Checklist. If single engine: PF calls for Flaps 20°, airspeed set to VREF+10 knots, PF call for landing gear down not later than descent from MDA.
  5. At the Fix: Establish 1000-1200 FPM rate of descent using vertical speed, VNAV or available ILS glide path, reduce descent approaching MDA & level off not lower than MDA.
  6. Pattern Entry: Maintain VREF+5 knots during circling, with runway in sight, maneuver to enter pattern on downwind or base leg.
  7. Turning Base Leg: ensure landing gear is down.
  8. Threshold: maintain VREF.
  9. If visual contact with the airport (or the landing runway, when below MDA) is lost during the circling maneuver, a missed approach must be initiated. The initial turn should be made, or continued, toward the runway until established on the published missed approach course, or as directed by approach control.

    The initial turn is not always made toward the runway at all airports.

    See US versus ICAO Procedures.

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

PlaneView gives you a few visual cues on the map display that can help with runway offsets.

Map Display


Photo: PlaneView ILS Feather

By sizing the inner ring to 2 nm, you have a good idea where 2.3 nm from the airport boundary is:

ILS Feathers


Photo: Haskel simulator track, KMEM

If a perpendicular runway has an ILS, for example, varying the size of the inner display ring can be useful. The length of the ILS feather is equal to the inner ring for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 nm; it remains 5 nm up to a ring of 50 nm, after which time it is no longer in view.

Jeppesen Charts


Photo: Haskel pattern, KBED

Before you protest about the propriety of using an approach chart for navigation, allow me to offer two words: situational awareness.


Circling can get you killed and the dirty little secret is that everyone knows this. So what you end up with, in the "circling approach" classification, are three possibilities:

  1. Simulator Practice. I've outlined the procedure for the most common simulator circling destination: KMEM, Memphis. I don't think you would ever have to do this in real life, that place is filled with ILS's, but you need to do it every six months just to satisfy the requirements of your instrument rating.
  2. Airport Maneuvering. Teterboro, for example, has to share airspace with La Guardia and Newark, so you end up with things like an ILS to Runway 6, circle to Runway 1. This is not a real circling approach, they ask you to begin your maneuvering outside DANDY intersection, which is 6.0 nm from the end of the runway. See KTEB, Teterboro.
  3. Real Circling. If you are in the weather, at minimums, having to circle within the published circling approach area, you are at risk. Depending on the rules used to set up that area, you may have no margin for error. See Circling Approach Area, for an explanation. Do you want to cut it that close? At normal approach speeds in the G450 you can improve your odds by only circling under Category D minimums. Chicago Midway, for example, can be safely circled at 2.3 nm, but a Stabilized Approach is impossible at 1.7 nm. See KMDW, Chicago, Midway.

See Air China 129 for an example of how things can go wrong during a circling approach designed under the most prevalent U.S. TERPS criteria.

Gulfstream G450 Aircraft Operating Manual, Revision 35, April 30, 2013.

Gulfstream G450 Aircraft Service Change 007C, Maximum Landing Gross Weight, 58,500 pounds, Category C, Provisions, October 26, 2011

Gulfstream G450 Airplane Flight Manual, Revision 35, April 18, 2013

United States Standard for Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS), Federal Aviation Administration 8260.3B CHG 19, 5/15/02