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How to estimate likely alt of manned aircraft landing

jmaeding

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I flew near an airport the other day, about 3 miles away. It was class E and I did the dji unlock zone thing.
It was a somewhat overcast day, and I did not see or hear anyone using the airport for the two hours I was out there.
It occurred to me that I don't know what the ranges for approach heights for manned aircraft about to land.
I have flown in a few cessnau's and other small planes, so have some idea, but at some distance from the runway, the planes pop below the 500 ft level.
How would I educate myself on this in the simplest way? I believe there are charts for approaches, but it must vary by type of plane.
Or maybe not. I researched this some but am asking to see what others recommend.
thanks
 

Thomas B

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I flew near an airport the other day, about 3 miles away. It was class E and I did the dji unlock zone thing.
It was a somewhat overcast day, and I did not see or hear anyone using the airport for the two hours I was out there.
It occurred to me that I don't know what the ranges for approach heights for manned aircraft about to land.
I have flown in a few cessnau's and other small planes, so have some idea, but at some distance from the runway, the planes pop below the 500 ft level.
How would I educate myself on this in the simplest way? I believe there are charts for approaches, but it must vary by type of plane.
Or maybe not. I researched this some but am asking to see what others recommend.
thanks
Maybe try the FAA sectionals?
 

jmaeding

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I should clarify - based on my distance from the runway, what is the lowest altitude I should expect landing planes to be at?
This kind of assumes worst case, which is a plane coming straight in to land. No base leg turn.
 

jmaeding

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Maybe try the FAA sectionals?
Since I have my Part 107, I am fully aware of that. That is super general though, and does not help me guess what the lower limit would be for a landing plane. I know they must stay 500' AGL in general, but when would they likely break that for their landing approach?
 

Thomas B

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It can have variables. Recommend looking at AirMap and LAANC approvals... they should show an altitude grid on the maps.
 

jmaeding

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That is a reasonable start, and I had thought of that, but I want to know what a pilot refers to. I thought I have heard pilots refer to the approach altitude charts on youtube vids. I was expecting some to comment on how complex or easy they would be to read.
I would imagine there are at least rules of thumb, such as "don't go lower than some angle or you risk being in trouble if engine fails".
 

Thomas B

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AirMap will show max allowable altitudes for drone flight on a map. There is also FAA info on the site linked below... zoom in for local details, maybe it will give you the info you’re looking for.
 

jmaeding

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People are misunderstanding. I don't want a map of zones and things, as that refers to known areas and drone heights.
I am sure the numbers on airmap are very conservative. They don't help me at all if I am flying by some private airstrip or class D\E airports.
In my case, I was by French Valley airport by Menifee CA, and the only info available was the dji zone unlock map which does not have elevations. I'm asking about estimating real plane heights, not how high I can fly my drone legally. I want to know what the buffers are, so I can decide for myself what is safe, and then also follow maps and things which likely restrict even more.
 

sar104

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People are misunderstanding. I don't want a map of zones and things, as that refers to known areas and drone heights.
I am sure the numbers on airmap are very conservative. They don't help me at all if I am flying by some private airstrip or class D\E airports.
In my case, I was by French Valley airport by Menifee CA, and the only info available was the dji zone unlock map which does not have elevations. I'm asking about estimating real plane heights, not how high I can fly my drone legally. I want to know what the buffers are, so I can decide for myself what is safe, and then also follow maps and things which likely restrict even more.
IMG_44F21E0AA9CA-1.jpeg
 

PhantomFandom

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I flew near an airport the other day, about 3 miles away. It was class E and I did the dji unlock zone thing.
It was a somewhat overcast day, and I did not see or hear anyone using the airport for the two hours I was out there.
It occurred to me that I don't know what the ranges for approach heights for manned aircraft about to land.
I have flown in a few cessnau's and other small planes, so have some idea, but at some distance from the runway, the planes pop below the 500 ft level.
How would I educate myself on this in the simplest way? I believe there are charts for approaches, but it must vary by type of plane.
Or maybe not. I researched this some but am asking to see what others recommend.
thanks
It depends greatly on the situation and the pilot.

If the pilot is using a standard IFR approach (GPS, ILS, etc...) then the entire glide pattern and glide slope is published, as shown above by @sar104. However, even an IFR approach can lead to a visual landing once the pilot has the runway in sight.

If the pilot is flying purely VFR then there is really nothing to go by. If the pilot enters the pattern normally at the downwind leg then there is a pattern altitude that you can use for reference. If the pilot is doing a long straight-in approach then you have nothing to base it on. A good pilot would maintain as much altitude as possible in case of engine failure, but you never know. There are all sorts of variables and you never know what the pilot is dealing with in the cockpit.
 

barrybcar

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I live about 3 1/2 miles from a class C and literally directly in the flight path. I’ve also been curious about the altitude that they are coming in over my house. I was flying home a week ago today and with the airports so empty, I asked a passenger pilot about the approach. He said that at 5 miles they are “supposed” to be at 1500 agl. And at 3 miles out it should be about 1300 agl. Not counting variables.
 
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sar104

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It depends greatly on the situation and the pilot.

If the pilot is using a standard IFR approach (GPS, ILS, etc...) then the entire glide pattern and glide slope is published, as shown above by @sar104. However, even an IFR approach can lead to a visual landing once the pilot has the runway in sight.

If the pilot is flying purely VFR then there is really nothing to go by. If the pilot enters the pattern normally at the downwind leg then there is a pattern altitude that you can use for reference. If the pilot is doing a long straight-in approach then you have nothing to base it on. A good pilot would maintain as much altitude as possible in case of engine failure, but you never know. There are all sorts of variables and you never know what the pilot is dealing with in the cockpit.
There may always be exceptions but, in general, aircraft are unlikely to enter the GP lower than the pattern height, or approach at a significantly lower angle, and they should be announcing their intentions on CTAF as well.
 

jmaeding

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Excellent! Thanks for all who posted back, looks like what I wanted. I knew it would not be too simple.
Why did the Part 107 tests not have this? I passed recurrent a month ago and they asked lots of useless questions but none on this rather important subject.
 

sar104

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Excellent! Thanks for all who posted back, looks like what I wanted. I knew it would not be too simple.
Why did the Part 107 tests not have this? I passed recurrent a month ago and they asked lots of useless questions but none on this rather important subject.
There were questions about patterns and altitudes in the test that I took.
 

jmaeding

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There were questions about patterns and altitudes in the test that I took.
Sure, but not about altitude at takeoff or landing (that I recall). I think they could cut out about 1/2 the questions on whose fault it is when...because asking once is enough. They clearly do that to emphasize its not THEIR (the FAA's) fault so thanks FAA. I found the info mentioned here really interesting. They should have included some of it just to keep us awake while studying.
Instead its "If an alien lands, and tries to fly your drone, is that:
A) alienism
B) the visual observers fault
C) the PIC's fault?
 

sar104

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Sure, but not about altitude at takeoff or landing (that I recall). I think they could cut out about 1/2 the questions on whose fault it is when...because asking once is enough. They clearly do that to emphasize its not THEIR (the FAA's) fault so thanks FAA. I found the info mentioned here really interesting. They should have included some of it just to keep us awake while studying.
Instead its "If an alien lands, and tries to fly your drone, is that:
A) alienism
B) the visual observers fault
C) the PIC's fault?
I meant pattern altitudes. If you know the airport pattern and you monitor CTAF then you pretty much have everything covered.
 

jmaeding

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I meant pattern altitudes. If you know the airport pattern and you monitor CTAF then you pretty much have everything covered.
Well, that "knowing the pattern" is tricky as pattern horizontal is easy, but vertical is different. I was trying to understand if there is such a thing as standard approach in regards to vertical. Sounds like there is, but what if no pilots around to listen to? I need some way of estimating "am I even close" to altitude where planes would go on landing. A police officer might ask that or anyone accusing me of interfering. I sure would like to be able to say "I am at least 300' vertically away from typical traffic for this or that reason...".
That would be a good test question - you are 1 mile from a private runway, in landing approach area. How low would you expect the lowest flying plane to be?
Answers:
A) 200 ft
B) 100 ft
C) Just blame the visual observer for not telling you
 

Thomas B

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Well, that "knowing the pattern" is tricky as pattern horizontal is easy, but vertical is different. I was trying to understand if there is such a thing as standard approach in regards to vertical. Sounds like there is, but what if no pilots around to listen to? I need some way of estimating "am I even close" to altitude where planes would go on landing. A police officer might ask that or anyone accusing me of interfering. I sure would like to be able to say "I am at least 300' vertically away from typical traffic for this or that reason...".
That would be a good test question - you are 1 mile from a private runway, in landing approach area. How low would you expect the lowest flying plane to be?
Answers:
A) 200 ft
B) 100 ft
C) Just blame the visual observer for not telling you
Guess that’s why ADSB is coming.
 

Camino Ken

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Most airports have visual glide slope indicators called VASI, which stands for Visual Approach Slope Indicator which are clearly visible to the pilot on final approach. These are typically set for 3 degrees from horizontal but can be as high as 4.5 degrees to avoid known obstacles. These are being replaced by a system called PAPI, Precision Approach Path Indicators but accomplish the same thing. If you are within a couple of miles from the runway you are expected to stay near this glide slope.

By the way, pattern altitudes are typically 1000ft above the elevation of the runways and are either left hand or right hand traffic which is indicated on the sectionals.

One big caveat is that are some exceptions to all of the above, usually due to unique terrain around the airport.
 
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sar104

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Well, that "knowing the pattern" is tricky as pattern horizontal is easy, but vertical is different. I was trying to understand if there is such a thing as standard approach in regards to vertical. Sounds like there is, but what if no pilots around to listen to? I need some way of estimating "am I even close" to altitude where planes would go on landing. A police officer might ask that or anyone accusing me of interfering. I sure would like to be able to say "I am at least 300' vertically away from typical traffic for this or that reason...".
That would be a good test question - you are 1 mile from a private runway, in landing approach area. How low would you expect the lowest flying plane to be?
Answers:
A) 200 ft
B) 100 ft
C) Just blame the visual observer for not telling you
If you plan on seeing the aircraft on a 3° glide slope below the pattern then you will be pretty accurate. At one mile that's 275 ft.

Guess that’s why ADSB is coming.
Not really - that's primarily for aircraft ID in controlled airspace.
 

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